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.”