March 15, 2004


I don't want to get into the actual debate about Aznar/Rajoy v. Zapatero, whether Spain should be in Iraq, or how best to prosecute the war on terror.

But the election results today in Spain make me scared that Al Qaeda will try a similar action here in early November, to try to influence our election. And it is likely that Britain, Poland, Italy and/or Australia will see similar attacks, as Al Qaeda attempts to knock down the dominoes of American allies. They clearly wanted the Socialists to win in Spain, and whether true or not, they are sure to believe that their strategy was effective, and should be duplicated.

I'm afraid for the consequences....

Posted by richard at March 15, 2004 03:30 AM

I don't know. I think your whole post is predicated on your assumptions about how to prosecute the war on terror. Here's why:

It goes without saying that 9/11 and the Madrid bombings will be incorporated into people's decisionmaking at the polls. Although, from a certain perspective, the best thing to do would be to say, "Whatever," and go on with our lives, leaving al Qaeda bewildered and wondering why we're not responding to their dog-and-pony show, that show involves the taking innocent lives, and we can't just blow it off.

So you can do what the Spaniards did and elect a Socialist government that pulls out its troops, on the theory that they don't want to give al Qaeda a reason to keep coming at them in particular. Or they could have decided screw al Qaeda, let's elect somebody who will go in and kick their butts. In either event, the act of terror would still have leaked into the outcome of the election.

Whether or not one or other of the responses makes you "afraid" necessarily depends on your view of how best to deal with al Qaeda.

It's a long-accepted axiom that giving terrorists what they want ratifies their strategies and encourages them to keep making trouble. Thing is, in this case, there's no way not to give al Qaeda what it wants. Are al Qaeda's actions directed at provoking us/them sentiment that will lead to a larger war of ideology between East and West, or are they directed at dictating a specific Middle Eastern policy to the West? However much these purposes are irreconcilable and contradictory, the stupid video tapes that come out every quarter have cited both of them as motivations, and I think either response to al Qaeda's crimes probably "rewards" their efforts.

That is, al Qaeda produces and regularly revises its list of grievances with the West, but I don't see any clear bullet-pointed agenda that, when completed, would satisfy al Qaeda and get its thugs to behave (as might be true of the Palestinian Authority). The fact that we've pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia, settling an issue that used to be bin Laden's principal beef, certainly hasn't softened the position of radical Islamists on America. They've just found other complaints to make — other motivations to continue doing what they're doing.

I think it's a long-proven fact (sadly enough) that terror works. You can't not respond to it. You can elect to back down in the face of it, thereby inviting more of it, or you can stand and fight it, thereby inviting more of it. The difference is, when you fight it — and you fight it well — you're at least killing the bad guys.

I therefore don't think it's useful to worry about how what we do affects al Qaeda's "motivations" and "incentives." They're going to blow stuff up regardless. So the best approach is twofold: (1) to kill the incorrigibles, and (2) promote a foreign policy that makes fewer people become incorrigible in the first place.

In light of this analysis, there are two takes on Spain. The first is that they've opted out of their national responsibility to help kill and disable terrorists, and in cowardly, cynical fashion they've accepted that terrorism will continue at its current levels, but — so they hope — somewhere else besides in Spain. The second is that the Socialists suspected long before the bombings that the war in Iraq seemed to take the war on terror off track and was likely exacerbating anti-Western sentiment in the Arab community, which will ultimately help terror recruitment in the long term.

I don't think it's fair to choose one rationale over the other. My point, I guess, is that I certainly don't see what Spain did as an encouragement to terrorism. I would be sorely troubled if attacks like these broke the international will, little by little, to take al Qaeda down — that is, to kill them all. But I'm at best ambivalent on the relationship between the war on terror and this other war in Iraq, so, on reflection, Spain's election results do not trouble me as much as they might have initially.

You're right to say that the inference of cause and effect here could well influence al Qaeda's choice and timing of targets. But I do not think that al Qaeda will be any more or less emboldened or motivated simply because voters selected a government that supports a position that they so emptily recite as a basis for murder.

Taking our troops out of Saudi Arabia was the right thing to do, for like a thousand reasons, not the least of which being that the Saudis don't deserve our protection. I'm glad we've gone that route, and I'm glad that the Bush Administration took it, notwithstanding that it would appear, in some circles, to "cave" to pressure from al Qaeda, which certainly drew attention to the question when they slaughtered thousands of people in America and released a videotape raising the subject. I wouldn't begrudge the sovereign people of Spain the authority to make a similar decision on the wisdom of keeping troops in Iraq, notwithstanding what the train bombings did to hot-button the question there.

Whether or not you think their decision was right is up to you.

Posted by: Brad A. at March 15, 2004 12:43 PM

I agree with the premise that the chain of events in Spain is very troublesome and will lead to more of the same, unless the UN gets off its duff and takes over the situation in Iraq. Unfortunately, I think this prolongs their doing so.

Posted by: Dick at March 15, 2004 12:55 PM

I was initially disturbed by the response of the Spanish voters. It seemed a bit like caving in to terrorism. It appears, however, that the outgoing government tried to pin the attacks on ETA - even thought they suspected otherwise - to help their re-election effort. Given that, I can understand the response of the Spanish voters. If I thought my goverment was intentionally spreading false reports like that, I'd vote them out of office as well.

As far as whether this encourages more al-quaeda attacks, I'm not as convinced as the two Dicks. Spain's been on their list for a while, regardless of Iraq. Al Quaeda seems to attack people they don't like, whether they respond to their demands or not. We responded to Al Quaeda attacks by confronting them head on. We're still high on their list. Spain responds by seemingly giving in to their demands. Spain's still high on their list. Turkey wouldn't allow the US to use their country to invade Iraq. Al Quaeda bombed them anyway.

They'll bomb whom they want and make up an excuse for it, it seems. I'm not sure that Spain's action at the polls either encourages or discourages them from further attacks . . .

Posted by: Mike F. at March 15, 2004 10:26 PM