It was, reported the BBC, “the most deadly terror attack in Europe since Pan-Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a bomb above the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, and the worst in Spanish history.” The BBC was wrong. It was much worse than that. Thursday morning’s carefully planned bomb blasts in and around Madrid, killed nearly 200 people, and wounded some 1,400 others, all–as this headline in El Mundo put it–”merely because they were Spanish.” The Spanish government, and many others, at first blamed the ETA, the Basque terrorists, for the attack. The ETA denied it, of course–and indeed in the course of the day, other clues emerged that seem to implicate al Qaeda. No matter who did it, it was Spain’s 9/11–or, as El Pais called it on the front page of their Thursday extra, “11-M”–March 11. (Elsewhere, Europe’s press sinister was in disarray: Gérard Dupuy, writing in Libération, explained that the Madrid attack had moral collaboration from terrorists elsewhere, but worried that the bombings would cause even more people to flock to “antiterrorism’s banner;” Germany’s liberal Suddeutsche Zeitung offered only the hope the Spaniards wouldn’t use “Spain’s 9/11″ to emulate Bush’s “blind campaign” against terrorism.)
#ad#The tragedy took place just days after Spain intercepted ETA bombers en route to Madrid in a truck loaded with explosives, and just days before Spain’s popular conservative prime minister, José María Aznar, was to leave office after promising to step down after two terms in office. Sunday’s national election–in which Mariano Rajoy, the new, somewhat uninteresting leader of Aznar’s Popular party, faces the Socialists under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, will go ahead as scheduled, although campaigning has ceased. On Friday, millions of Spaniards are expected to gather for demonstrations of solidarity with the families of those killed or injured, and in opposition to terrorism.
Aznar was responsible for ending the Socialists’ 14-year grip on power. His subsequent success with Spain’s economy, now the eighth-largest in the world; his stern denunciation of ETA, echoing the position taken by his predecessor; and his defense of Spanish interests in the face of French and German opposition meant the Socialists had almost no chance of winning the election before the blast. But the revelation that they had had illegal contacts with ETA, as reported last January in the Guardian, only added further injury to their campaign. The terror attack seems likely to bury them. Even in Bilbao, the capital of Basque country, tens of thousands turned out to stand in a silent rebuke of ETA. Although there is general support for regional institutions already in place–a local parliament and local police and the like–Sky News and the BBC both reported no signs of any support locally for the extremists of the ETA. One analyst remarked that the ETA, which once commanded some parochial sympathy, now has fewer than 300 followers these days.
The bombings came at the end of a week that seemed to be shaping up as Aznar’s sweet farewell to Spain–and to his European nemeses. In a lengthy, two-part interview with Le Monde (here and here), the paper accused him of dividing Europe over Iraq and blocking the proposed EU constitution by insisting that the EU treaty signed in Nice, which gave Spain near-parity with France and Germany, be observed. Aznar told the paper that Spain had no intention of playing a supporting role to France’s star turn, and that it might help the French to remember that “contrary to certain ideas, Europe’s best interests do not lie in opposition to the United States”–a fairly exotic notion in downtown Paris, France.
As a solid ally of both Britain and America, Aznar has attracted the usual crowd of angry skeptics, each of them hoping the Spanish prime minister’s insistence on supporting the war in Iraq might be his vulnerable spot. Public sentiment in Spain certainly wasn’t on the side of the war, so it was assumed by the opposition that by focusing obsessively on the war, they might enjoy the kind of success that has eluded the British Conservative party, which is pursuing that very same strategy. In fact, the Socialists were so eager to pillory Aznar on Iraq, that they took a shot at Blair, too, just for drill. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph last January, one top-ranking Socialist thought he might win the hearts and minds of Spanish by calling Blair an “imbecile”–and worse–on TV. That clever ploy hasn’t panned out so far.
It was unfortunate that Thursday was the day the IHT chose to unburden itself of anti-Aznar sentiments on its op-ed page. A very mysterious piece by Dan O’Brien claimed that Aznar’s pro-American policies were bound to be rejected by his successors, no matter who won the election, because, as you know, the Spanish had lost the Spanish-American War, and because Aznar’s pro-Americanism had “led to Spain’s isolation in the EU”–by which O’Brien means, as you know, France and Germany. It’s a point of view shared with Pravda, who made much the same point last year. Whatever. It’s certainly not likely that Spain will be isolated in an expanded EU, where most nations will share Spain’s reluctance to play the Franco-German con game.
On the same day appeared an impassioned item the paper called “Playing the Basque Card” by Jonathan Power. The IHT identified Power only as a “commentator on foreign affairs”–but he’s more than that. He’s also an associate at something called the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. As a forward-looking, transnational pacifist, Power was angry that Aznar had not negotiated with the terrorists who had already taken 800 Spanish lives. “It is this absolutism, this arrogance of power,” Power writes, “common to both the government and its predecessor, the Socialists of former Prime Minister Felipe González, that has helped make ETA the formidable and dangerous force it has become….Though the depth of bitterness and grievance among Basques might appear overdone to outsiders, it was enough to give the parties of independence 53 percent of the vote in 2001. This has to mean the solution lies in negotiation. Ireland reminds us that democrats do, sooner or later, talk to terrorists who have significant political support. In Spain it is time to talk.”
Ireland reminds us that terrorists love networking, actually, and that the IRA and ETA aren’t strangers, as this notice in the Guardian suggests. And anyway I’m not sure how those “parties of independence” feel today about being lumped together by Mr. Power with ETA. None of those who stood for election in 2001 advocated terrorism–and today it would be hard to imagine any of them would be interested in talking to the ETA. In the Basque region, even after news of a possible al Qaeda link turned up, people interviewed by journalists still seemed determined that the attack was the work of the ETA. What’s to negotiate when elections seem to be working? Those in the “parties of independence” know that terrorists never quite understand the rules of conversational engagement. Besides, on Thursday in Madrid, the terrorists dialogued first. Power and other commentators on foreign affairs are left looking for root causes and all that. But as of today, most people know that negotiating with whomever is responsible for the Madrid atrocity isn’t the solution. Talking with the ETA makes as little sense as negotiating with al Qaeda. Both are rejected by the constituencies they pretend to represent–ETA far more than al Qaeda, sadly–and there is little value in negotiating with the constituencies they do represent, since nobody really needs to do business with bizarre thugs and cockamamie murderers.
I’m perhaps being unfair to people like Jonathan Power who I’m sure would not wish to be shown wrong in quite this way, and who might perhaps argue that if negotiations with terrorists had been going on, maybe the bombs wouldn’t have gone off. But we’ve already learned at great expense just how wrong that thinking is. Those who haven’t learned should ask the Israelis. As Leonard Bernstein was reminded by Tom Wolfe, there’s something kind of idiotic about subscribing to a radical chic point of view–and it isn’t just the love beads and the Afro-perm. It’s the pitiful assumption, usually by those with a death-wish to be loved, of good faith among the faithless. As long as there are people around who will plead for granting legitimacy to killers, terrorism will continue as a global strategy for those who can only persuade by killing, since the implication is that if they just kill enough, people will grant them credibility.
No matter which terrorist group is responsible for the atrocity in Madrid, negotiation is not just a bad idea. It’s crazy. Terrorists really don’t have much to say–which is why we’re waging war on them, instead of not buying their paperbacks and not reading their persuasive articles. This week, the Spanish discovered the principle behind Aznar’s decision to stand with America in Iraq.
Terrier logic. If you want to see what’s wrongheaded about the British Conservative party, have a look at its sympathetic home companion, The Spectator, which careens between the sublime and the blimey with every issue. Last week, the mag unleashed its new “defense and diplomatic editor” who promptly returned to Blair’s trouser leg. “Andrew Gilligan can confirm, for the first time, that five months before the invasion of Iraq the Attorney General’s advice to the government was that regime change was illegal.” Yes, our favorite Scoop is back on duty, this time as an enabler to Boris Johnson, the editor of The Spectator and the Conservative MP from Henley, who thinks perhaps his party can win an election not by advancing some interesting new ideas, but by hammering Blair yet some more on Iraq. Plus, last week’s issue lacked Mark Steyn’s usually helpful take–and what it lacked in Steyn, it more than compounded with the presence of Bill Bryson. Bryson is every Brit’s favorite Yank–sort of the way Angela Lansbury is every Yank’s favorite Brit. He used the opportunity to take a shot at George W. Bush’s daughters.
This week, something completely different. Not only is Steyn back, but so is Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, with a useful piece of service journalism called “How to Buy the Telegraph.” But alas, the magazine also sends Simon Jenkins out to put some egg on his face by doing a Gilligan on Blair’s remarkable speech in Sedgefield (offered in full in the Guardian) defending the war on terrorism. Take a look at both items. Read in the wake of the Madrid bombing, Blair just makes more sense than…well, than anything the hopeless Tories have to say these days on just about anything.
Drydocked. The launch of the French edition of Newsweek–stylishly called, in France, “Newsweek”–is still up in the air, according to a report in Le Nouvel Observateur. The test issue, which appeared last January, had a 60 percent sell-through–a very respectable number. But, as editor-in-chief Thomas Sancton observes, the French market is a difficult one. There’s only one newsstand distributor in the country, the racks are already filled with newsweeklies, the ad market sucks right now, and, as other magazine publishers entering the French market have discovered, newsstand buyers are phenomenally fickle. Typically, a new magazine attracts buyers who abandon it in huge numbers when the second issue appears. Time tried this once. Didn’t work then, either.
War heroes. The five British men caught in Afghanistan, imprisoned in Guantanamo and released earlier this week by American authorities, were getting far more attention in the British press than any returning soldier back from Iraq. Pieces like this soft-focused item in the Independent reflect the tone of most coverage. BBC 24 did a full-on celeb-stakeout as the men were followed off the plane, into a police station for questioning, then to their homes, where their families posted notes on the doors telling reporters to please contact their media consultants. The price of an interview was said to start at around $75,000.
Right, oh! Following the conservative triumph in the Greek elections, France’s TF-1 has looked around the EU and discovered that, aside from Germany, where Gerhard Schroeder’s left-wing government is slowly sinking into irrelevance, the whole place is drifting to the right. That should mean that the EU will wish to become smaller and less intrusive, no? No.