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Between the Lines

March 15, 2004

The terrorists win

It’s still not certain whether al-Qaida bombed those trains in Madrid, but on one level it doesn’t matter. Regardless of who did it, al-Qaida – or, perhaps more accurately, the increasingly widespread and amorphous Islamic jihadi movement – won.

-- The conservative Popular Party of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a key ally of the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, lost in Sunday’s elections, three days after the horrific slaughter.

-- The incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist, pledged again today to pull Spain’s 1,500 troops out of Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes responsibility for military affairs there.

So the Bush administration appears to be losing one of its key European allies on Iraq and it looks like our troops may lose the support of 1,500 Spaniards in a situation where every pair of boots on the ground counts. The administration promptly stepped up with what is being viewed abroad as a warning that to stand back would be an invitation to catastrophe.

Indeed, supporters of the administration no doubt will consider the Spanish response to the bombings as appeasement or something similar. But I think this misses the point.

The fact is that very few Europeans ever bought into the notion that Iraq was the main front in the struggle against terrorism. They understood why we went into Afghanistan. But not Iraq. In Spain, large majorities have opposed military intervention in Iraq since day one. So it’s scarcely surprising that voters took it out on the Aznar government when it began to appear likely that al-Qaida, or some ally of it, was responsible for the train bombings.

Blogger Tacitus makes an impassioned argument here that, “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, initially connected only on an arguable conceptual level, are now inseparable parts of the same campaign. The inability to recognize this -- and the concurrent inability to grasp that defeat in one arena heartens and directly aids the enemy in the other -- is a surefire sign of one's politics overriding one's sense.” Europeans, however, are unlikely to be much moved by the argument that since, to follow Tacitus’ logic, we connected these particular Islamic dots they should be willing to pay the price. In short, they don’t see the threat of terrorism in the same globally apocalyptic way. At least not yet.

That could change.

Richard Evans of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in London says that, “Terrorism is a means of communication.” And ever greater destruction is needed to get these people’s “message” across.

Richard A. Clarke, author of a new book on terrorism, makes the same point at Time, where he writes that “security officials are concerned that the calculations of these often unknown groups have changed. They may think they must create mass casualties or risk being ignored by the media.”

Worse, it’s much easier to launch such attacks than it is to defend against them, Clarke says. ”The attacker has the advantage. In such circumstances, security officials cannot just play defense. They must not wait to pick the terrorist out of the crowd at Grand Central Terminal in the minutes before he sets the timer. Terrorist cells must be infiltrated overseas. Terrorists have to be picked up at the border or found among the hundreds of millions of people on our streets.”

Unfortuately, that doesn’t work very well either. His conclusion: “If we do not focus on the reasons for terrorism as well as the terrorists, the body searches we accept at airports may be only the beginning of life in the new fortress America.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:41 PM

The return of the draft

Really. The Pentagon apparently plans to start with linguists and computer experts. However, even limited conscription is said to be “far off.” Especially since it would take an act of Congress.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM

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July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003

The terrorists win
The return of the draft


Blogs to watch

Abu Ardvark
Andrew Sullivan
Atrios Eschaton
Best of the Web
Drudge Report
Joe Conason (subscription required)
Josh Marshall
Kaus files
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Real Clear Politics
The Corner
The Volokh Conspiracy
The Whiskey Bar

Mideast blogs

Salam Pax (Iraq)
G. in Baghdad
L.T. Smash (U.S. military in Iraq)
Lady Sun (Iran)

City blogs

L.A. Examiner

Africa blogs

Cathy Buckle

Media blogs

Dan Gillmor's eJournal
Media Whores Online


Newspapers online (guide to papers on the web)
International Herald Tribune
The Guardian U.K.
New York Times (free registration required)

Economy blogs

Brad DeLong

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