- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

The other night, I attended a reception at the Embassy of Iraq. Virtually all Iraq’s communities were represented: Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd, Muslim and Christian. There were women in modest veils and not-so-modest cocktail dresses. There were men in designer suits and others in desert robes.

They seemed to get along fabulously. At least they had this in common: None of them would have set foot in that building so long as it belonged to Saddam Hussein.

I was among the few non-Iraqis. Nevertheless, I was made to feel very welcome by Ambassador-designate Rend Rahim Franke and her guests. But then, I have known many of these individuals since their days of exile, when they struggled to communicate the brutality and menace of the regime they had escaped.

I wish Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero could have been there. Mr. Zapatero, of course, is the leader of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, which was swept to victory in elections a week ago following the worst terrorist attack in Spain’s history.

Mr. Zapatero plans to withdraw his nation’s 1,300 troops from Iraq. By so doing, the government of Spain will be telling the Iraqi people they should not have been liberated a year ago, and that it is a matter of indifference whether next year they live in freedom or tyranny.

Spanish voters already have sent a message to the terrorists who slaughtered more than 200 of their countrymen. Those terrorists intended to affect Spain’s elections — without airing a commercial or publishing an op-ed. They succeeded. Those terrorists also intended to widen the gulf between the United States and Europe — to divide, the better to conquer. For now, at least, they have accomplished that goal as well.

The view of too many Spanish voters may be gleaned from a banner displayed by protesters in Barcelona. It showed outgoing President Jose Maria Aznar with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The banner read: “Did this picture cost 200 lives?”

So it is the picture — not those who planted the bombs, not those who sent them — that is to blame?

Another Spanish protester was quoted in the New York Times: “Maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq, and al Qaeda will forget about Spain, so we will be less frightened.”

The terrorists are not likely to forget about Spain — centuries ago, it was part of a grand Islamic empire that the jihadis have vowed to restore.

The most distressing comment, however, came not from a Spaniard but from Romano Prodi, chief of the European Commission. He told Italy’s La Stampa: “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with the terrorists.”

So in his very European view, our goal should not be to defeat the mass murderers of women and children but to “resolve the conflict” with them. How exactly might we go about that? By sitting down to negotiate with Osama bin Laden? Perhaps Munich might provide the appropriate venue.

Keep in mind that bin Laden claimed two primary reasons for attacking Americans on September 11, 2001:

(1) American, infidel forces were stationed on holy Saudi soil.

(2) And the United States had imposed painful sanctions on Iraqis.

Today, our forces have left Saudi Arabia and sanctions have been lifted. Indeed, were it not for the terrorists, Iraqis would be well on their way to unprecedented prosperity.

Al Qaeda seeks more than it demands. It is intent on nothing less than the West’s defeat and destruction. Are there really people in the West — even Europeans — willing to negotiate that? My Iraqi friends grasp all this — and are puzzled when others fail to. They were similarly perplexed a year ago when protesters held signs saying “No War On Iraq” when it was obvious Saddam had been waging war on Iraqis for decades. The question was whether anyone would try to stop the carnage — either out of altruism or enlightened self-interest.

Most of the Iraqis I know are only too eager to tell anyone who will listen how grateful they are to America, how fully they appreciate the sacrifices Americans are making, how fervently they pray Americans will not abandon them this time.

And there are millions of Arabs and Muslims like them — millions who want the freedom to select their leaders, to speak their minds without fear, to worship as they choose.

Not all Spaniards, not all Europeans, seek a comfortable neutrality midway between murderers and the murdered. My hope is that those who know better will make their case forcefully in the days ahead.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies an policy institute focusing on terrorism. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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