When asked about the effect of another terrorist attack on American soil, John McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black, responded rashly and bluntly. “Certainly it would be a big advantage” for McCain, Black told Fortune magazine recently. Similarly, the strategist described the assassination of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in December as “an unfortunate event,” but said “it helped us” in the contest for the nomination.

It would be unfair to McCain, and to Black, to take this analysis as an indication that the Republican team is hoping for or counting on a terrorist incident. Still, Black’s observation does bring up the question of whether the threat of terrorism will help Republicans, or whether the politics of security have shifted since the last presidential election.

Is Black right to assume that McCain would benefit politically after another terrorist atrocity in the US? Regardless, McCain is ignoring the ever more evident flaws in President Bush’s notion of a war against an enemy called terrorism. Bush’s war on terrorism may have offered an excuse to flout the US Constitution and expand executive power, but it has not been going all that well. McCain should recognize that the next president needs to enhance national security by improving perceptions of the US in the Muslim world.