An evil symbiosis does exist between Muslim terrorists and Americanpoliticians, but it is not the one Republicans describe. The jihadistsneed George W. Bush to sustain their cause. His bloody crusade in theMiddle East bolsters their accusation that America is out to destroyIslam. The president has unwittingly made himself the lead recruiter ofwilling young martyrs.

More to the point, it is equally true that Bush desperately needs theterrorists. They are his last frail hope for political survival. Theydivert public attention, at least momentarily, from his disastrous warin Iraq and his shameful abuses of the Constitution. The “news” ofterror–whether real or fantasized–reduces American politics to itsmost primitive impulses, the realm of fear-and-smear where George Bushis at his best.

So, once again in the run-up to a national election, we are visitedwith alarming news. A monstrous plot, red alert, high drama playing onall channels and extreme measures taken to tighten security.

The White House men wear grave faces, but they cannot hide theirdelight. It’s another chance for Bush to protect us from those alienswith funny names, another opportunity to accuse Democrats of aiding andabetting the enemy.

This has worked twice before. It could work again this fall unlessgullible Americans snap out of it. Wake up, folks, and recognize howstupid and wimpish you look. I wrote the following two years ago duringa similar episode of red alerts: “Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’ is apolitical slogan–not a coherent strategy for national defense–andit succeeds brillantly only as politics. For everything else, it isquite illogical.”

Where is the famous American skepticism? The loose-jointed ability tolaugh at ourselves in anxious moments? Can’t people see the campy jokein this docudrama called “Terror in the Sky”? The joke is on them. I have asuspicion that a lot of Americans actually enjoy the occasional frightsince they know the alarm bell does actually not toll for them. It’s agood, scary movie, but it’s a slapstick war.

The other day at the airport in Burlington, Vermont, security guardsconfiscated liquid containers from two adolescent sisters returninghome from vacation. The substance was labeled “Pure Maple Syrup.” I am reminded of the Amish pretzel factory that was put onPennsylvania’s list of targets. Mothers with babes in arms are now toldthey must take a swiq of their baby formula before they can board theplane. I already feel safer.

The latest plot uncovered by British authorities may be real. Or maybenot. We do not yet know enough to be certain. The early reporting doesnot reassure or settle anything (though the Brits do sound moreconvincing than former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who gave “terror alerts” such a badreputation). Tony Blair is no more trustworthy on these matters thanBush and Cheney. British investigators are as anxious as their Americancounterparts to prove their vigilance (and support their leaders). Theclose collaboration with Pakistani authorities doesn’t exactly addcredibility.

One question to ask is: Why now? The police have had a “mole” insidethis operation since late 2005, but have yet to explain why they feltthe need to swoop down and arest alleged plotters at this moment (twodays after the Connecticut primary produced a triumph for anti-warpolitics).

The early claim that a massive takedown of a dozen airliners was setfor August 16 is “rubbish,” according to London authorities. So whodecided this case was ripe for its public rollout? Blair consultedCheney: What did they decide? American economist Jamie Galbraith wason a ten-hour flight from Manchester, England, to Boston on the day thestory broke, and has wittily reflected on other weak points in theofficial story line.

The point is, Americans are not entirely defenseless pawns. They cankeep their wits and reserve judgment. They can voice loudly theskepticism that Bush and company have earned by politicizing of theso-called “war” from the very start. Leading Democrats are tougheningup. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid uses plain English to explain what theRepublicans up to–using genuine concerns of national security “as apolitical wedge issue. It is disgusting, but not surprising.”

Instead of cowering in silence, the opposition party should startexplaining this sick joke. Political confusion starts with theill-conceived definition of a “war” that’s best fought by police work,not heavy brigades on a battlefield. Forget the hype, call forcommon sense and stout hearts.

All we know, for sure, is that Bush and his handlers are not going toback off the fear-and-smear strategy until it loses an election forthem. Maybe this will be the year.