Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The first step in developing a policy of non-appeasement of terrorists is to understand how the world actually works. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Madrid bombings and the resulting political sea change in the Spanish election three days later, much of the establishment press is blinded to the reality that appeasement emerged victorious in Sunday’s election.

The New York Times celebrated the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a strident foe of sending Spanish troops to Iraq, as “an exercise in healthy democracy.” The Financial Times described the election as “an exemplary display of democratic conviction.”

We don’t doubt that the election accurately reflected the will of the Spanish people, nor would we urge any government to govern undemocratically. But when people in a democratic country can be intimidated by terrorism, and the policy process manipulated for dark ends, that is not something to be celebrated.

Although public opinion polls showed that a large majority of Spaniards did not favor Mr. Aznar’s decision to dispatch troops to Iraq, the consensus of Spanish political analysts four days before the election was that Mr. Aznar’s Popular Party would nonetheless win a solid victory. All that turned around after terrorists, apparently linked to al Qaeda, bombed four commuter trains in Madrid, killing at least 200 persons. Fearing the possibility of further terrorist attacks, millions of Spanish voters responded to the slaughter by voting Mr. Aznar’s party out of office.

Mr. Zapatero, the incoming prime minister, vows that unless political control in Iraq is turned over to the United Nations, Spain’s 1,300 soldiers will return home by June 30. Referring to Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said, “You cannot organize a war with lies.” The government of Honduras, reversing a policy restated just the day before, joined Spain in arranging a troop withdrawal from Iraq.

For al Qaeda, the Spanish election results constitute success, at least in the short run. The organization, at minimal cost to itself, demonstrated that terrorism can be employed to influence elections to bring down democratically elected Western governments closely allied with the United States. Given their success in Spain, it would be astonishing if the terrorists do not attempt to replicate their success in this country and in other nations that support U.S. policy in Iraq, particularly Britain, Poland, Australia and Italy.

Of course, there’s no world leader who al Qaeda and pro-terrorist regimes want to bring down like Mr. Bush. Doubtlessly, al Qaeda will try to do its worst. Americans must be prepared to do our best.

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