Presidential advisor Karl Rove has been touting his "October surprise," aimed at keeping Republicans in office.
While Rove will most certainly exploit the fear factor, the question remains if we'll let ourselves be fooled - yet again.
It's worth remembering that only five years ago, the US was reeling under anthrax attacks which killed five people and ground postal services to a halt. It's also worth noting what happened next.
Even though the Bush administration soon realized that the anthrax source was domestic, Vice President Dick Cheney played the war card in claiming Osama bin Laden's terrorist training manuals teach "how to deploy these kinds of substances." While Congress admirably resisted adopting the odious Patriot Act in the weeks following 9/11, both chambers quickly caved when two Democratic senators' offices were subsequently targeted with anthrax-laced letters. Coincidentally, Congress also resisted renewing the Patriot Act in February 2006, but after a nerve agent scare on Capitol Hill led to the quarantine of 200 people, it caved once again.
The big story behind the 2001 anthrax attacks, however, was never properly covered: White House staff had started taking Cipro, an anthrax-treatment drug, a full week before the first attack even occurred. You've got to wonder what prior information the Bush administration had - and why it was not communicated to the US public.
While serious questions behind the anthrax incidents may never be answered, the attacks were phenomenally successful in two ways: providing justification for the Bush administration to rev up spending on biodefense and adding more fuel to the fire for an invasion of Iraq.
So perhaps Rove's surprise will involve some form of domestic bioweapons attack, handily foiled by Bush's superior intelligence capabilities. How intriguing that Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion farce aimed at protecting the American public after the anthrax attacks, has been getting a lot of flak recently. A little domestic scare might give the administration's pharmaceutical boondoggle more credibility.
A second possibility is that Rove plans to serve up bin Laden "dead or alive," as Bush had originally requested. Recent rumors of bin Laden's having succumbed to typhoid support the possibility, yet he was also reported to have died before the 2002 congressional elections. The very thought of eliminating bin Laden might score Republicans some easy votes, but it's hard to imagine he will be permanently bumped off until a new, equally scary bogeyman is made available.
The most terrifying prospect is that the October surprise will involve an attack on Iran, and all signs indicate the growing possibility. A US armada of war ships, including a nuclear aircraft carrier, is due to arrive off Iran's coast in the third week of October, and according to retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, the US is already conducting preparatory military operations inside the country.
Rove may reason that a US attack on Tehran's alleged nuclear-weapons facilities would be enough to rally the public around Republicans come November, but it's a cataclysmic miscalculation. The Iranian military's Blow of Zolfaqar war games last month demonstrated that the country is armed and ready to fight, and Tehran's other options are just as devastating: activating Hezbollah, inciting further violence in Iraq and interrupting the world's oil supply.
The patent contradiction of waiting for a surprise aside, we've got to show more sophistication this time in preempting Rove's inevitable trick or treat. The stakes are just too high.
This article is partially excerpted from The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now (Volume 1) by Heather Wokusch. For Action Ideas or to learn more about The Progressives' Handbook series, visit www.progressiveshandbook.com. Heather can also be reached at www.heatherwokusch.com