The newspapers, opinion journals and web logs today are full of fallout from last week’s bombings in Madrid and the subsequent ousting of the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of the Bush administration. There’s a clear thread now among pundits on the right to accuse the Spanish electorate of, at best, a dreadful mistake and, at worst, “appeasement.” Commentators from the center and left are asserting that the Spanish took the sensible path of evicting a government responsible for committing the country to a hugely unpopular conflict.
One of the best pieces I’ve seen comes from James Pinkerton of Newsday, who writes that “ … the Madrid bombings demonstrated yet again that the real danger to the West was never inside Iraq. Instead, the danger was always to ‘soft targets’ in the West, such as train stations or the World Trade Center. And the bad guys weren't Iraqi agents, but rather supranational networks using low-tech weapons of medium destruction. These networks may not consist of Iraqis, but they draw strength from the perception - justified, in the case of Iraq - that America and its allies have launched their own jihad against the Arab world.”
Thus, rather than criticizing Spain for a lack of steadfastness, “ … Americans might wish to study Spain's alternative approach to national defense. Voters here might wonder why it's a good idea to have 130,000 American troops in Iraq -- while our own borders are sparsely monitored and our own rail system is wide open to terror bombing. And why does the Bush administration wish to spend $200 billion to ‘liberate’ Iraq, but just $40 billion for the Department of Homeland Security this year?
“Finally, Americans might ask themselves the most basic question of all: Has the invasion of Iraq really made the United States safer?”
The latter is, or should be, the question of this election year.
For an opposing view, we turn to Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who writes in the New York Times (free site registration may be required) that,
“The Spanish political community has failed the test of terrorism — it has bowed to the violence of the few. Weakness tends to invite further attack. In this regard, Spain is vulnerable. It still rules the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast, which Islamists view as Christian colonies on Muslim soil. Having seen what bombs can do, they might be tempted to see if a few more explosions can induce the Spanish to withdraw. Similarly, ETA may well decide that another massacre or two will persuade the Spanish government to accept its demands.”
And here are links to other varied opinions:
Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the Washington Post (free site registration may be required):
“To murder and terrorize people is one thing, but to unseat a pro-U.S. government in a nation that was a linchpin of America's alliance with the so-called New Europe -- that is al Qaeda's most significant geopolitical success since Sept. 11, 2001.”
Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writing at reasononline:
“Allowing a terrorist attack to influence a democratic election is awful. However, it is hard to begrudge foreign electorates the right to toss out governments that have sacrificed their nations's interests to win favor in Washington.”
David Warren, Ottawa Citizen:
“We do not retreat because our allies are cowards. We continue to fight, for ourselves, for our children, and for the cowards' children.”
Billmon, in his blog:
“ … I'm amazed, and more than a little impressed, by the ability of so many conservative pundits to evade the inescapable conclusion: That the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq has been a complete disaster for the United States -- a disaster enormously magnified by Bush's willfully destructive attitude towards our former European allies.”
Mark Steyn, in The Daily Telegraph, London (free site registration may be required):
“ … if it works in Spain, why not in Australia, Britain, Italy, Poland? … To the jihadis' way of thinking, on Thursday, the Spaniards were disgraced by Allah; on Sunday, they withdrew. The extent of their impotence and weaknesses is very clear.”
Thomas Oliphant, in the Boston Globe:
”Governments that lie and cover up on matters not only central to national security but also to the commitment of armed forces abroad are inviting rejection.”
There’s a lot to chew on here.