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The Fall of Spain? By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The outcome of Spain’s March 14th elections is the worst news ever since the jihad against civilization began more than a decade ago. More than a tenth of the electorate in a major Western democracy has demonstrated that mass murder pays, and thus invited more of it. America is losing a major ally, and the struggle against Islamist terrorism has suffered a major setback. If Spain is a model, the Europeans are clearly not mature enough to understand, let alone deal with, the global threat posed by the Islamist barbarians, and the gulf in the Atlantic is wider than ever.

Prior to the March 11th bombings in Madrid, which left 200 dead and over one thousand wounded, and three days before the general elections, the ruling Partido Popular of Prime Minister José Maria Aznar was ahead in the polls by some 5 percent, and Aznar’s designated successor, tough former Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy, seemed a shoe-in to continue the eight-year-old PP government. The latter had a very solid record of accomplishments – it transformed what used to be a large backwater of Europe into the world’s eighth largest economy and one of the fastest growing economies in an otherwise stagnant Europe.

Under the PP, Spain became highly respected in Latin America and in European Union’s councils; it dealt resounding defeats to the Basque terrorists of the Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna – ETA. Aznar’s foreign policy was that of a true statesman – a rarity in today’s Europe. Against the overwhelming sentiments of the majority of his anti – American citizens, he strongly supported the United States in the war against terrorism, sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq at the cost of Spanish lives, and was both active and effective in hunting down Islamist terror cells in Spanish territory.

By contrast, the internal opposition was playing to a different tune. The Basque politicians of the regional government, insufficiently pleased with enjoying the highest standards of living in Spain, pushed for total independence and took an ambiguous position vis-à-vis ETA’s legal fronts. The main opposition, the PSOE (Socialist Workers’ Party ) was trying to ride the anti-American tide, opposed the war in Iraq and its Catalan branch’s allies were dealing with ETA.

And then the bombings took place – and many Spaniards decided that capitulation is the best part of valor, that mindless fear and manipulation are more powerful than common sense, civic values and pride. Despite public disclaimers by the PSOE leader and next Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a national period of mourning and a declared suspension of the electoral campaign, PSOE operatives in Estremadura and elsewhere were inciting masses of party militants and clueless students to demonstrate against the government. The slogans used tell it all, in full stupidity and mendacity: “We want the truth before voting,” “Our dead, your war,” and “The people does not believe the lies of the PP.” It all sounded as Dennis Kucinich was suddenly cloned.

First the mendacity - “We want the truth before voting!” The bombings occurred on Thursday, and the government was rapidly moving the investigation ahead. French, British, American and Israeli help was requested and received; the Moroccan government, normally not in good relations with Madrid, was cooperating; and arrests were being made. The government, naturally enough, was in the midst of dealing with a humanitarian disaster, while openly informing the public of both main directions of investigation – ETA and Islamic terrorists. No government could have done better or differently, and there were no “lies.”

Second, the stupidity - “Our dead, your war!” screamed ignorant youths with “Peace” signs. Translation: Aznar’s participation in the war against Islamic terrorism and Saddam’s criminal regime was responsible for the deaths on Thursday. To begin with, that assumes that the demonstrators knew better than the government who the perpetrators were, and that they were Islamists – an assumption based on flimsy evidence. While there are some indications that an Islamist group was behind the attacks – and three Moroccan and two Indian Muslims were arrested – that is far from sufficient. The al-Qaeda associated group that initially claimed responsibility for the bombings, has also claimed it for last August’s New York area blackout – a patently false claim. On the other hand, there are also strong indications that ETA could have been behind it, despite its denials. 

Further, it assumes that fighting terrorism produces terrorism, an argument repeated here by a number of Democrats and other war opponents who believe that removing Saddam made al-Qaeda mad. Finally, “your war” clearly means Aznar’s, and implicitly America’s war and thus places the blame not on Islamists but on those opposing them, and demonstrates once again the intensity of the mindless anti – Americanism haunting Europe. Never mind that Bin Laden has, for years, declared that he sees the Islamic “recovery” of Al Andalus (Muslim Spain and Portugal of the 8th – 15th centuries) as one of his goals. Are those clueless or ill intentioned sloganeers suggesting that Aznar should have returned Spain to Muslim rule in order to prevent the Madrid attacks? This is defeatism of the basest kind.

The result of all this was that from being 5 percent ahead in polls on Wednesday the PP lost 43 percent to 36 percent on Sunday – a shift of 12 percent, the number of clueless and irresponsible Spanish voters. That is a large number and one that raises questions about the maturity of the Spanish electorate, questions which would have appeared preposterous just a week ago.

What are the implications of this for Spain? They may well prove very costly indeed. A successful, market oriented economic policy will be replaced with the very kind of  statist, socialist blunders that have brought stagnation to Germany, France and Belgium. A consistent and tough line on Basque and Catalan separatism will, at best, be replaced by vacillation, inconsistence and compromise. Economic growth and Spanish competitiveness will slow down. And from being a staunch ally of the United States, Zapatero’s Spain will join France, Belgium and Germany in opposing Washington on issues ranging from the war on terror to Cuba to Iraq. Indeed, Zapatero already made it clear that he will withdraw the 2,300 Spanish troops from Iraq by August – unless, that is, he obtains the blessing of the United Nations.

In Europe, Aznar was a key member of the group trying to contain the ambitions of the Paris –Berlin axis; Zapatero will likely join or cheer it on. But the most important lesson to be learned from Spain is the most depressing and the one most likely to be assimilated by the terrorist networks the world over – in a Western democracy terrorism, if massive enough, pays. If the so far unproved suspicion that Islamists were behind the Madrid bombings, on a background of a Pavlovian anti – Americanism, was enough to turn 12% of Spanish voters against their own highly successful government, rather than the actual mass murderers, what is there to prevent others like them from thinking that killing a few hundred Britons, Germans or Italians, on a similar background, will be equally successful. If the Madrid bombers were Islamist (and even if not), the murder of 200 innocents advanced one of their strategic goals – intimidating and disarming the West and isolating the United States. If Spaniards are scared enough by terrorism to distance themselves from America, what could we expect from far weaker governments elsewhere? What happened in Spain on March 14th  is jihad’s greatest victory to date – far greater than September 11th, greater than Bali and Madrid or even the temporary takeover of Afghanistan – a dark day indeed.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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