- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The ghost of Neville Chamberlain is haunting Europe, preaching pacifism and appeasement and promising “peace in our time” in the war against terrorism.

This is the frightening apparition that rose out of the wreckage, blood and body parts in the Madrid train station bombing on the eve of Spain’s national elections — that had all the hallmarks of al Qaeda at work. When the smoke cleared and the votes were cast, the terrorists had won their first major political victory on the European Continent.

Fearful Spaniards voted to throw out Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch U.S. ally in the war in Iraq, and elect Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who vowed to pull Spain’s forces out of Iraq and end its support of U.S. policy in the global war against al Qaeda’s killers.

Mr. Zapatero, a vehement foe of President Bush’s war in Iraq, had been given little chance of rising to power. But the bomb blasts that slaughtered 200 people and maimed 1,400 others changed all that. In the bloody wake, America lost a key supporter in the war and Europe’s pacifists gained another ally — handing Osama bin Laden his biggest victory since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

Spain now joins France, Germany and several other smaller European countries in their opposition to the war. The question now is will al Qaeda send its terrorist bombers against other U.S. allies — such as Australia, Poland, Great Britain — in hopes it can frighten them to turn against the war as well.

What happened in Spain this week may have an impact in the United States, where Mr. Zapatero’s crusade against U.S. policy in Iraq is to a large degree emulated by Sen. John Kerry’s campaign to deny President Bush a second term.

Listen to what Mr. Zapatero says about the U.S.-led war to liberate Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime: “The war has been a disaster; the occupation continues to be a disaster.” The decision to go into Iraq was “an error. It divided more than it united, there were no reasons for it, time has shown that the arguments for it lacked credibility, and the occupation has been poorly managed.”

While Mr Zapatero acknowledges the need to combat global terrorism, he says the only way to do that effectively is through “a grand alliance” of the democracies and through the United Nations, not through “unilateral wars.”

These statements sound like Mr. Kerry’s arguments to me. The senator has said throughout his campaign that Mr. Bush “rushed to war” and that he should have waited until a stronger international coalition had been forged and given the weapons inspectors more time to do their work. He has labeled the war a “failed policy” that was wrong from start.

Worse, Mr. Kerry now says the terrorist threat has been “exaggerated” by the president, and he has repeatedly said the postwar occupation has been bungled. Like Mr. Zapatero, he argues Mr. Bush’s central rationale for war — weapons of mass destruction — has now been shown to lack credibility.

Indeed, no one seemed to be cheering Mr. Zapatero’s victory more than Mr. Kerry. Earlier this week, he seemed to argue that his criticism of the war, which he initially supported and voted for, has been vindicated by the ouster of Jose Maria Aznar’s government.

There is a strong streak of appeasement in the Democratic Party that led to Howard Dean’s meteoric rise last year, until his candidacy crashed and burned in a series of gaffes. Throughout the primaries, Mr. Kerry gradually adopted Mr. Dean’s appeals to the party’s antiwar base until his opposition to the war became virtually indistinguishable from Mr. Dean’s, and Mr. Zapatero’s, too.

At best, Mr. Kerry’s position on the war has been marked by “ambivalence,” to use Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s word, and at worst, outright hostility to using military force to eliminate a major terrorist threat in the Middle East. Like Mr. Zapatero, Mr. Kerry sets up an impossible diplomatic hurdle to cross before military action can be contemplated against rogue countries known to harbor and support terrorists — broader international support and a U.N. consensus for war. As Mr. Bush remarked earlier this month, Mr. Kerry was all for war against Iraq “as long as no one objects.”

The history of appeasement shows it has always failed. Chamberlain’s efforts to let Adolf Hitler have a little slice of Czechoslovakia in the hopes it would satisfy his lust for power and bring Great Britain “peace in our time” ended with Germany’s invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II.

Spain’s withdrawal of its 1,300 troops from Iraq will not end al Qaeda’s thirst for blood. It will only embolden the terrorists to step up their attacks elsewhere, where the death toll will be much higher than the 201 lives snuffed out in Madrid.

Once again, history repeats itself.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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