Who does bin Laden benefit?

It’s Nov. 2 and election season is finally over. No more hackneyed speculation, no more worry and no more debate. No more petitioners or activists clogging up the sidewalk and our recycling bins with desperate attempts to change people’s diametric opinions. This past weekend has revealed the worst political landscape in memory. With only days until the election, both candidates were pulling out all the stops, the airwaves were jam-packed with stilted, righteous last-second ads, the worst of which was from Osama bin Laden.

There has been so much conjecture surrounding the next move of the most-wanted zealot that his timely video message has struck many as a little disappointing. We’ve all wondered if bin Laden would be the one to tilt the election one way or the other. If another attack were to occur, would it push an infuriated country away from the strong-arm tactics of the current administration — like what happened in Spain — or would it sending us running to the safety of our cloistered nationalism and the Patriot Act? What if bin Laden had already been captured and the government was holding out on the announcement until its political viability was highest? All this was the exaggerated gossip of the AM dial and it has been deflated by bin Laden’s tape.

The video, delivered to Arabic television station Al-Jazeera, features bin Laden making new threats against the United States, arguing that the conditions that resulted in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, still existed. He not only levees threats against the United States, but also makes statements designed to rally Palestinian and Shia support, intending to increase tension within the Middle East.

But what does a message from bin Laden mean to the U.S. elections? Practically nothing.

It most certainly has not swung sentiment to either party, even with both sides doing their best to spin bin Laden’s surfacing to their advantage. The problem with the tape is that, for being such a political hot button, bin Laden can neither help nor hinder either candidate.

To be certain, it’s an embarrassment for Bush. One of Kerry’s strongest attacks has been that the President dropped the ball on bin Laden, ignoring him in favor of declaring war on Iraq, and allowing him to escape. And this is the first hard evidence of bin Laden’s survival since 2001, a detail that has left U.S intelligence frustrated and chasing leads throughout both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Newsweek reported that “only weeks ago” in Pakistan, a “net was closing in” on an al-Qaida agent who supposedly would put them on bin Laden’s doorstep, but that confidence is now diminished.

The tape is no boon for Kerry, either. Bin Laden’s threats are damning not just to Bush, but to whoever the president might be. His actions are nonpartisan and, therefore, so are the results. Polls are still close and if Kerry is elected, the problem of Osama bin Laden will fall onto his lap, and with it, the consequences of his escape.

What the tape does offer is the opportunity, for whoever is elected, to begin planning for the future. We’ve learned the hard way not to discount al-Qaida threats, and looking at this tape as only pertinent to the election would be a dangerous oversight on behalf of the U.S. government.

Osama bin Laden has proven himself to be an inspired planner and nothing he does is without a specific purpose. Could this tape be another warning sign, akin to those ignored by President Bush that led up to the attacks in 2001? Perhaps the nation’s focus should start to shift away from today’s election and start planning for the future.

Unfortunately, with circumstances what they are and polls so close, I doubt Nov. 2 is going to be the end of the road for either candidate. One would just hope that someone’s looking out for Osama bin Laden, because I’m terrified to think something terrible might happen while the nation is innocently occupied with scraping campaign stickers off of bumpers and trying to figure out the best method for recycling lawn signs.

Dylan Tanner can be reached at [email protected]