Politics & Policy

A Defeat in Spain

If al-Qaeda, like the Supreme Court, follows the election returns, it must feel encouraged.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the April 5, 2004, issue of National Review.

The Madrid bombings were a scene out of Goya–a brew of body parts, fear, and fanaticism. Days later they were followed by an event that, though quintessentially modern, is no less irrational, the election upset: The Popular party of outgoing premier José María Aznar lost to the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Aznar’s position as prime minister was always anomalous. In eight years, he had brought Spain prosperity. But his decision to send 1,300 troops to Iraq had been opposed by 90 percent of Spaniards. He was brave and insightful to stand with the United States, but his party’s tenure in office could continue only so long as everything went right.

Was Spain attacked because of its Iraq policy? That’s what the terrorists said. In a videotape discovered after the blasts, a man identifying himself as an al-Qaeda functionary offered a blunt quid pro quo: “If you do not stop your collaboration, more and more blood will flow.”

Yet terrorists, from Osama bin Laden down, have long identified Spain as a target. It is a stone in their sandals, a Christian country squatting in the former Moslem realm of al-Andalus. More generally, Spain, like all of Europe and the Americas, is filled with Jews, uncovered women, commerce, newspapers–all the things offensive to Islamists. If the Spaniards think that shuffling a government will get them off the hook, they must think again.

If al-Qaeda, like the Supreme Court, follows the election returns, it must feel encouraged. The loss of Afghanistan was a blow to their command structure; nothing approaching 9/11 has happened since. Yet branch offices have carried out major attacks in Bali and Madrid; the Madrid operation showed sophisticated coordination. Al-Qaeda may aim to pick off low-hanging fruit–potentially weak Western nations. Italy and the Netherlands both have troops in Iraq; Canada does not, but might be terrorized into outright anti-Americanism. The most tempting target, however, will be the United States, specifically the Bush campaign. Al-Qaeda will fancy itself George Soros with bombs.

Europe will see the strengthening of a Brussels response to terror. “Nobody, nobody, nobody should believe that somehow we can opt out of the war against Islamic terrorism,” said Zapatero. But how will that war be waged? Romano Prodi, chief of the European Commission, said, “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists.” Though Brussels Europeans will use police and intelligence, they will not move against states that sponsor terror. As a sop to world Moslem opinion, they will continue to try to toss Israel off the sled. They may well crack down on Moslem populations at home, as in France’s ban of headscarves in schools. By these means, they will hope to make the Mediterranean as wide as the Atlantic. Years ago James Burnham defined liberalism as the ideology of Western suicide. The Brussels approach to terror is the ideology of the fetal crouch.

The United States must seek to cultivate the European allies it has, and to create new ones. Bush and the State Department have to make our case to the public and to opinion-makers. We must continue pressuring the state sponsors of terror. Qaddafi’s about-face, Musharraf’s crackdown on the Pakistani bomb trade, popular rumblings in Syria and Iran, are all hopeful signs. State sponsorship is a vital issue, because 9/11, Bali, and Madrid were horrible; a plague or a nuke in London or Los Angeles would be catastrophic. To fight the branch offices of terror, we must be as adaptable as the enemy–hunting them down wherever they are.

The jihadists believe they will win because, unlike their enemies, who love life, they welcome death. We love life, and we love search-and-destroy.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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