Perhaps the most significant unexamined charge in the campaign is the question of who “the enemy” — whether it be Kim Jong Il or Osama bin Laden, Iraqi militias or Iranian mullahs — wants to win the election. President Bush and vice president Cheney suggest that a Kerry administration would be a boon to terrorists and dictators the world over. John Kerry and John Edwards say, though not so bluntly, that four more years of Bush-Cheney would do more damage to America’s security. The press — usually — just says what the candidates say, usually without regard to its veracity (or absurdity).

But what does “the enemy” say?

Thanks to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, a wing of the CIA that monitors the foreign press — and makes limited reports available to the public, for a price — Campaign Desk was able to survey more than a dozen news outlets in the “Axis of Evil.” (Question: Does Iraq count any more now that America runs it?) And overall, editors and commentators in those places seem to have a Naderesque critique of the elections. That is, it makes little difference whether Bush or Kerry wins, because their policies don’t greatly differ. At least not on the issues that matter to those facing the business end of an Abrams tank.

Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda, shadowy and diffuse as it is, has been reluctant to issue an official response to the various allegations that it prefers one candidate over another. So until the next bin Laden tape airs on Arabic television, we’ve got to make do with second-hand assessments from al Qaeda’s associates.

One place to find such informed hearsay is in the Saudi government’s London organ, Al Sharq Al Awsat. The paper published a report on Monday with this clunky but informative title: “The Fundamentalists Disagree Over the First Debate in US Presidential Elections Campaign and Some of Them Hope Bush Will Win Because He Opened a New Front for ‘Al Qaeda’ in Iraq.” (Hey, we never said the Saudis don’t need to work on their headlines.) And that about sums it up. The piece quotes Dr. Hani Al Sibai, a London-based expert on radical Islamic groups, speculating that “Kerry might withdraw the US forces … and this will mean a big loss for the jihadists.” That prediction, of course, somewhat overstates Kerry’s position; his four-year withdrawal plan depends on getting United Nation troops on Iraqi soil and having credible Iraqi elections next year. Thankfully, the paper doesn’t give Sibai the final word.

Muntasir Al Zayyatt, a lawyer for the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, told Al Sharq Al Awsat that “The media and political message of both candidates on what they call the ‘terror issue’ are identical. The stand on the Palestinian issue is also identical.” Americans may know this — especially after the Edwards highlighted his support for Israel in the veep debates — and the US press, as always, loses interest when it sees no friction. (There is a Pat Buchanan-like thread to all Arab commentary: the assumption that both Bush and Kerry — could you find two WASPier guys ? — are tools of Israel. But we digress.)

Zayyat went on: “The jihadists are not largely concerned with who will win the US presidential race because they hold principled stands against the US administration and the policies followed by any administration that occupies the White House. This might explain why bin Laden and Al Zawahiri [head of Islamic Jihad] had addressed several messages to the American people warning them of their administration’s corruption and telling them that they — that is those in al Qaeda — are not against the American people but against their government’s policies.” (Tell that to the widows and widowers of 9/11, buster.)

“In any case,” the laywer continued, “it can be said that the Islamists do not support Kerry but are insisting on bringing Bush down.”

Granted, it’s not straight from the horse’s mouth, and the logic doesn’t track. But Zayyat’s explanation of strikes us as at least as clear as either candidate’s elaborated position on the Iraq war, and certainly as worthy of space in the news hole as anonymous quotes from party operatives.

Iraq

On to the hot war. There are no less than 20 distinct resistance groups in Iraq, according to an inventory by the Baghdad weekly Al Zawra. And there are at least ten media outlets for every one of them, by Al Jazeera’s count.

Corey Pein was an assistant editor at CJR.