If I were Bush and was going to use a threat outside the US for political gain what would I do?
first you have to decide when the threat can and cannot be used. The threat could be used a trump card during an election, but if you play the trump card to many times people will get suspicious and desensitized to the threat. Your opponents could then use that feeling(s) against you.
Secondly, when I wanted to play the trump card (the outside threat to the US), I would make it public, so that everyone knows about it. Vague, so that as many people as possible feel affected. Temporary, so that people will not become desensitized to the threat. Unpredictable, so that people will feel like there is more danger than their actually is.
I would follow up the threat with some kind of major arrest which would allow me to lower the threat level soon after I had raised it (I would probably wait about a week). This would show that I was doing my job, and was proactive in battling the threat.
Also, just raising the threat level and leaving it there would not do anything, because it would just become a side note on the news. New threats get more attention than old threats. New threats, with the knowledge I handled the old threats, would provide people with sense of security that my opponents could not achieve.
Instead in real life Bush made the threat (more or less) permanent. Very specific, down the exact buildings. No visible action besides defense, which just means that Bush is being reactive not proactive. While reactive is good, it is not as good as proactive.
Yea, I would say that Bush is handling this all wrong if he was going to use the terror threats as a political trump card.