If, as appears certain, Islamic terrorists planted the bombs that killed over 200 commuters and wounded 1,400 others on Madrid’s trains on March 11, the operation was singularly successful in achieving its political objectives.
Until that morning, the Popular Party (PP) government of the former prime minister José Maria Aznar looked poised to win the general election scheduled for March 14. The ruling party’s candidate, Mariano Rajoy, led most polls by three to four percentage points, and the PP had even hoped to retain its outright majority in the 350-member Congress of Deputies (Cortes).
When, one day after the attacks, the suspected Islamic connection became known, the mood of the nation turned violently against Aznar. His support for President George W. Bush in the war in Iraq—hugely unpopular to start with—came to be seen as the cause of the attack. Aznar was accused not only of having unnecessarily exposed the country to danger from Islamic militants but of cynically accusing the Basque separatist group ETA—and minimizing the Islamic connection in the immediate aftermath of the attack—in order to avoid that kind of blame. Demonstrations initially staged to protest the attacks soon turned into antigovernment rallies, with protesters chanting “Aznar, terrorist” and carrying posters of Aznar flanked by Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair with the caption “We pay the price!”
The mood swing produced the greatest electoral upset since Spain returned to a multiparty system in the aftermath of General Franco’s death almost three decades ago. The Socialist Workers’ Party and its radical allies easily won a majority of seats in the Cortes with 43 percent of the vote; the PP received 38 percent. The Socialists immediately pledged to withdraw the Spanish contingent of 1,400 soldiers from Iraq, and new prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero left no doubt that Aznar’s “special relationship” with Washington was at an end: My government will maintain cordial relations with all the governments of the world, he said, “and of course with the United States.” In victory, he remained scathing about Bush, saying that he and Tony Blair should engage in some “reflection and self-criticism” about the “lies” that led to the war in Iraq.
The left was ecstatic. El Pais gleefully noted that “the decision to take Spain into the Iraq war [has] been soundly rejected by the electorate.” El Mundo called the outcome “an electoral debacle” for the PP and the price for “Aznar’s grave error in placing himself under the banner of Bush.” Even the conservative press conceded that a decisive factor in the socialist victory was the perception among many voters that Aznar “compromised us in an unjust war in Iraq in close alliance with the US.”
As always, the left was missing the point. Aznar may have been mistaken to dispatch Spanish troops to Iraq. His attempt to grandstand, together with Tony Blair, as Washington’s staunchest European ally admittedly verged on the pathetic. Nevertheless, no reasonable and patriotic Spaniard should rejoice in the fact that a terrorist attack materially contributed to the outcome of an election. This may only encourage the followers of jihad to plot fresh outrages, in Spain and elsewhere, or merely to threaten terrorist attacks until a country’s policy has changed to suit their preferences. A collective terrorist blackmail on a grand scale may well be in the cards next: Quit Basra, say, or one of Heathrow’s terminals is reduced to rubble
The clues implicating Islamic terrorists date back to a videotaped message released last October, apparently by Osama bin Laden, in which Spain was singled out as one of the countries that would be attacked “at the appropriate time and place.” (The CIA later said that the tape was probably authentic.) In a subsequent wave of deadly bombings in Morocco, the Spanish cultural center in Casablanca was hit with particular ferocity. Then came a document in Arabic attributed to Al Qaeda, prepared last December and subsequently leaked to the press, that suggested that the network was planning an attack in Spain just before the elections. The 50-page booklet, Iraq al-Jihad, identified Spain as the weakest link in the U.S.-led coalition and claimed that she “could not tolerate more than two or three attacks without having to withdraw its troops from Iraq.” The document stated the group’s view that, “after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party will be almost guaranteed.”
As soon as the news of the Socialist victory reached Washington, the Bush administration warned Spain and other European countries that to waver in the fight against global terrorism would be a “catastrophe,” but Zapatero so far seems unimpressed. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped that Spain’s new leaders would not shrink from our “collective responsibility to go after terrorists wherever they surface.” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice went a step further by saying that to back down from the fight against terrorism after the Madrid bombings would be to play into the hands of terrorists. She told NBC’s Meet the Press that the world should never fall for “the notion that we would be better off just to sit back” and let the terrorists grow.
In this instance, the Bush administration’s fears are justified: Islamic militants will see the defeat of the Popular Party and the Socialists’ intended withdrawal from Iraq as victories for their cause. The election upset in Spain will be seen as the first time Islamic militants have toppled a Western government by killing civilians, which will only encourage further attacks. Quite apart from the desirability of American disengagement from Iraq, any such strategy would be jeopardized in the short term if a coalition partner were to depart abruptly as the result of terrorist attacks.
The incoming Spanish government had not taken much notice of Washington’s rhetoric at first. Miguel Angel Mora-tinos, a former E.U. Middle East envoy and the country’s new foreign minister, declared that Spain’s new priorities will be to restore relations with core Euro-partners, rethink her role in Iraq, and leave strategic dialogue with the United States to the European Union. He suggested that the idea of a special relationship with the United States had been an illusion. The U.S.-led coalition’s policy in Iraq had failed, he added, and he disputed a suggestion by Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller that to talk of pulling troops out after the bombings was tantamount to admitting that the terrorists were stronger and were right: “We’re not going to surrender but we want to be much more clever, more sophisticated and more efficient in order to defeat them.”
In other words, they would rather surrender and hope that an escape into Euro-timidity may create a shield against future attacks. This posture demands a creative response from Washington. Instead of using the language of warnings and veiled threats, the Bush administration should call the bluff of the new Spanish government, which has said that Spanish troops may remain in Iraq under a clear U.N. mandate. Rather than advocate the continuity of Aznar’s policy and uphold the demand with the rhetoric of the “Coalition of the Willing”—which would only alienate the Socialists and most ordinary Spaniards alike—Mr. Bush should agree to a Security Council resolution authorizing the existing mission. He could then press Zapatero to leave the Spanish contingent both in order to diminish the perception that Al Qaeda has scored a great triumph and to offer a contribution to the collective will of the “international community.” That approach admittedly smacks of humility, which is exactly what this administration has so far lacked in its attempts to forge alliances in the “War on Terror.” Accepting a U.N. mandate that may allow the Socialists to keep the Spanish contingent in Iraq is the optimal short-term strategy for the administration.
As for the longer term, the war in Iraq may have been fought on false pretenses and for all the wrong reasons, but Zapatero’s and Moratinos’ Euro-defeatism and Gramscian wishy-washiness is not a coherent alternative to Aznar’s posturing. Being “much more clever, more sophisticated and more efficient” in order to defeat jihad demands a host of measures—including immigration control, a reassertion of national pride, and the promotion of higher birthrates—that no self-respecting Socialist would ever condone. The new Spanish government should realize that, of the two key prerequisites for successful attacks by Islamic terrorists in Spain, Aznar’s support of the U.S. policy was only one. The other prerequisite is the existence of a huge and largely unsupervised community of Muslim immigrants in the country, many of them illegal, estimated at over a million and growing. The presence of these people is essential to the creation of the complex infrastructure for the attacks.
While General Franco was in power, Spain enjoyed high birthrates and was a net exporter of labor. A catastrophic drop in fertility rates has taken place over the past two decades, however. Today’s democratic, liberal Spain is fully integrated into “Europe”—and dying with it. She vies with Italy for the lowest birthrate in the world, and at this rate, Spaniards will disappear within a century. This has already created a growing labor shortage that is being filled by North African Arab immigrants, mostly from Morocco and Algeria. Many migrate on a seasonal basis, making homes in Andalucía during the summer tourist and agricultural season. Others live in Spain permanently and have created their own kazbah-like neighborhoods, mainly in greater Madrid and in the north, in Catalon industrial cities. They are estimated to account for three percent of Spain’s 40 million people and may exceed ten percent within a generation.
Twelve centuries ago, Spain was the first European Christian country to be invaded by Arab Islamic armies. The outcome was in considerable doubt at first, and she fought for the ensuing 800 years to liberate herself from the invaders. The process was complete in 1492, but the finality of the Reconquista has never been accepted by orthodox Muslims who subscribe to the tenet that no land once controlled by the faithful can ever revert to infidel rule. The reversal of the Reconquista has been and remains their long-term objective. Exactly the same problem is present in every Western country that has allowed mass immigration from the Muslim world. The newcomers have no respect for nor desire to adopt Spain’s culture as their own. They create self-sustained communities that are not only separate from the host society but hostile to it. North African Muslims in particular use demography as a political weapon and export millions of their surplus population to France, Spain, and Italy, aware that, the bigger the diaspora, the greater the political influence it will exert and the more concessions they will be able to extort.
Spanish law-enforcement agencies are trying to keep tabs on dozens of Islamic terrorists believed to operate in the country, but they generally face a wall of uncooperative silence within the Muslim community. It was with considerable difficulty and expense that State Prosecutor Balthazar Garzon, known locally as “Superjudge,” compiled a 700-page indictment of Muslim extremists living in Spain and their foreign masterminds. His investigation and the report published last year followed allegations that some of the planning for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington had taken place in Spain. Investigators have established that the country was used as a location for laundering money, forging documents, assembling material for attacks, and recruiting helpers from within the immigrant Muslim community. Lead hijacker Muhammad Atta made two trips to Spain, the second shortly before the 2001 attacks, to meet with Al Qaeda leaders.
The growing terrorist network before March 11, the tragedy itself, and the implications of the subsequent election should be a wake-up call to all Spaniards—regardless of political affiliation—that a new approach to the problem of terrorism is urgently needed. The current terrorist threat to most European countries comes overwhelmingly from the Muslim community in those countries. Critical to reducing the chances of a future attack are an immediate moratorium on all immigration from such countries as Morocco and Algeria, as well as much improved and more rigorous maritime patrols in the Mediterranean and a sweeping program of deportation of illegal aliens who have done so much to reduce the quality of life in some of the most attractive cities of Europe.
Once it is accepted in Madrid, Brussels, Paris, London, and Rome that “true Islam” does not recognize a priori the right of any other outlook to exist and that any further pandering to the jihadist ambitions in the Balkans and elsewhere is utterly self-defeating, the pan-European antiterrorist strategy advocated by Judge Garzon will finally become possible. Only then can we contemplate a truly global War on Terror. That war is needed, not in its present hegemonistic form but as a genuine partnership of countries that subscribe to the legacy of Western civilization.