Dangerous & Damaging
The Spanish election results force a new priority upon us.


John O’Sullivan

On Spain’s National Day last October there was a military parade through Madrid in which all the flags of that country’s allies in Iraq were carried past an official reviewing stand. As each national flag went past, King Juan Carlos, Jose Maria Aznar, the conservative pro-American prime minister, government ministers, opposition leaders, and the assembled guests rose and stood to attention.

When the Stars and Stripes were carried past, however, one guest remained firmly in his seat. He described the event as an “homage to occupying forces.” And last weekend Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero became Spain’s new prime minister when his Socialist party won an upset victory over the conservative and pro-American People’s party.

Zapatero spent a good deal of his news conference yesterday insisting that his election victory was an expression of the Spanish people’s desire for “change” that had little or nothing to do with the terrorist bombs that murdered 201 people in Madrid last week.

That is nonsense. Almost all the opinion polls and almost all the political observers agreed before the bombings that Aznar’s conservatives were cruising towards an electoral victory. The only uncertainty was whether they would win power outright or need Coalition allies to form a government. When the votes were counted, however, it was Zapatero’s party that had come within eleven votes of a parliamentary majority. It will now form a government. The extra votes it needs will probably come from the Catalan nationalists whose leader recently appealed to the ETA Basque terrorists not to plant any more bombs — at least in Catalonia!

That is why the People’s party would have won in a landslide if the terrorist bombs in Madrid had proved to be the work of ETA. Spanish voters knew that the conservatives were whole-hearted opponents of Basque terrorism and the socialists were weak sisters at best.

The People’s party lost for one reason only: The police investigation increasingly suggested that the Madrid bombs were the work of al Qaeda. Hence they were seen as retaliation for the Aznar government’s support of the U.S. war in Iraq. And a majority of Spaniards decided by their votes to blame not al Qaeda but Aznar’s party for the 201 deaths.

By any test this result is a catastrophe.

In the short term the new socialist government in Madrid is likely to withdraw the 1,700 Spanish troops now serving in Iraq. That will slightly weaken the multinational force, make other governments reluctant to commit their troops, and encourage anti-U.S. parties throughout Europe to press for the withdrawal of national contingents already there. All of this will make it much harder to establish and protect a genuine democratic government in Iraq against the forces of terrorism.

But that scarcely begins to exhaust the dangerous and damaging consequences of this election result.

In the first place, Osama bin Laden will conclude, not unreasonably, that Zapatero won in coalition with himself just as Zapatero will govern in coalition with the Catalonian nationalists. Al Qaeda as a whole will reckon that its bombs were the main factor in handing the election to an unworthy Zapatero. And that victory will instill the forces of Islamofascism worldwide with the belief that the people of Spain, Europe, and the West are decadent–just as the 1930s Oxford Union refusing “to die for King and Country” convinced Hitler that the democracies then were decadent. Like Hitler they will then be emboldened by this belief to strike further–both against Spain and against other nations where resistance to Islamo-fascist terrorism is weak and uncertain. And the terrorist war on civilization will last longer and kill more people as a result.

Second, Zapatero’s arrival in power will strengthen the anti-U.S. coalition in European politics. Paris, Brussels and Berlin were almost certainly ecstatic when they saw the election results. Until Sunday the balance of power in Europe had been tilting against them and in favor of good transatlantic relations. The forthcoming arrival in the EU of East European states friendly to the U.S. seemed about to confirm this pro-American shift. This election tilts the advantage back again towards those parties and nations that want Europe to be develop as a “counterweight” to American power. It was a vote in favor of an anti-Americanism that is already the main ideological current on the European Left and may soon be the dominant ideology of a European federal superpower. So a more confident Islamofascist threat may soon be directed against a more divided West.

Third, this anti-American victory was a wake-up call–about the 57th such alarm by my count–to the U.S. State Department and foreign-policy establishment. They have paid too little attention to the rise of an anti-American Europe. They have shown very little idea of what to do about it when they have noticed it at all. So they have carried on automatically doing what they had done for the previous fifty years–namely, consistently encouraging the construction of “Europe” while occasionally bitching about its ingratitude.

As a result of Sunday, the U.S. can no longer afford this patronizing inaction. Europe is too important to be left to the Europeans. The U.S. will have to divert intelligence and resources from fighting terrorism to persuading Europe that it ought to prefer the common defense of our Atlantic civilization to the trivial pursuit of annoying Uncle Sam.

In the meantime, of course, al Qaeda will be preparing to determine the results of other elections–notably those of the powers most active in Iraq, namely, the U.S., Britain, and Poland. It is very unlikely that a terrorist bomb, however murderous, would help Senator John Kerry. Quite the contrary. If it seemed designed to help Kerry, it would reelect Bush.

Al Qaeda will find both Britain and Poland similarly difficult nuts to crack. In both countries the main opposition party is even more pro-American than the government‹yes, even than Blair’s government in Britain. So if Osama were to defeat Blair at the polls, he would get a government at least equally committed to the war on terror.

Not until the Italian elections come along will Osama find another Zapatero in the person of Romano Prodi, currently president of the European Commission, who seems likely to lead another anti-American leftist coalition against pro-American Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and who delivered a classic statement of appeasement in an Italian newspaper on Monday: “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists. Terrorism is infinitely more powerful than a year ago.” But Prodi’s chance to emulate Zapatero will not arrive until 2006.

Until then, Spain’s election will hang over Europe like a mist of fear and forgetfulness. Spaniards in particular should have recognized the family resemblance between the Islamo-fascist boast, “You love Pepsi Cola, we love death.” and the Falangist slogan, “Down with Intelligence, Long live Death.” They in particular should have remembered that fascism under any cultural guise can be neither appeased nor bargained with,

If Spain’s participation in Iraq had not been available as an excuse, the Reconquista would have served as equal justification–indeed Osama himself cited Islam’s loss of Andalusia as reason for his terror campaign. Nations that did refuse to help America in Iraq, such as Turkey, have nonetheless suffered bombings as heartless as those in Madrid. Unless Zapatero is prepared to convert himself and Spain to Islam, Spanish cities will continue to be targets for bombs at the whim of our enemies.

A moment’s intelligent reflection would have told the Spanish people these truths. But they discarded intelligence and gave death its first election victory.


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