March 14, 2004

Reflections on the Vote in Spain

Shortly after the Thursday's terrorist attack on Spain, a friend, who quickly jumped to the conclusion (which appears not at all unfounded), emailed to say,

Now that these idiots have done serious damage in Europe, one of the last bastions of chin-stroking, thumb-sucking, extremist-tolerating namby-pambyism, they're gonna get chased down over there, too. It's like they bite the hand that feeds them.

It appears, as Andrew Sullivan ably explains, that chin-stroking, thumb-sucking, extremist-tolerating namby-pambyism may have prevailed, to the detrimant of the war on terror. I should note that Meryl Yourish, in a very sensible post, cautions us to be a little more optimistic.

A while back, Jim Hoagland wrote a column in the Washington Post, contrasting the European approach to terror with the American version. I found its implications particularly chilling:

One sense of what security means in the age of terror arrived via the self-confident words of a senior French official during a recent chat in Paris: "We know where to find 90 percent of the people who are threats in this country. We can and do track them."

Later that day, a French woman who is a lawyer told me of having been stopped for an identity check while driving in Paris a week before:

"There were twin messages in the intrusive grilling I got. One was that the police have a free hand today in France. The other was meant to be reassuring. If we are treating you like this in an upscale quarter of Paris, think about what we are doing in the Arab ghettos that you fear."

"...the police have a free hand today in France." That's a relatively chilling thought -- I can't imagine the hue and cry that would emerge were a U.S. politician to announce that the police will have a free hand to go after terrorists.

Will Spain adopt the French model, which seems to be based on doing little to ruffle the feathers of totalitarian regimes abroad while cracking down on Muslims at home? I don't know, but I can't figure out how else to interpret the remarks of incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq but also said, "My most immediate priority will be to fight terrorism." Presumably, that means fighting it at home.

Will the French model work? Beats me, but I'm not optimistic, and I'm not sure I'd be thrilled with the notion that ten percent of the people who are threats are unidentified, or, for that matter, that the other 90 percent are on the loose.

Posted by Ideofact at March 14, 2004 11:49 PM

I don't understand what the big deal is about the Spanish elections. If you read the blogosphere, it seems like Spain was just conquered by Al-Qaeda.

There was an election there 3 days after a major terrorist attack. Of course, the 200 dead and 1500 injured was going to affect the perceptions of some people. Imagine a US election on Sept 14, 2001. Do you expect the polls on Sept 10 to have held true in that hypothetical election?

So the Socialist Party was against the Iraq war. So were 90% of the public and the people in almost every country in the world.

So the Spanish PM-elect wants to withdraw his troops from Iraq. There are only one thousand something Spanish troops there in any case. And I thought June 30 was the date for the US handing over Iraqi sovereignty.

And a lot of people dispute, quite credibly, that the Iraq war had nothing to do with the war on terror.

Posted by: Zack at March 15, 2004 02:21 PM

All good points Zack. I agree with you completely.

I am no expert on Spain, but I find it pretty insulting that all the "war bloggers" here are saying "We're all Spaniards" one day and then when the Spainish people (who always opposed the war in Iraq) decide to vote for a party that alos opposed the war in Iraq are namby pamby terrorist lovers and cowards.

The vast majority of the people in Spain oppose terrorism and opposed the war in Iraq. This is also true for the vast majority of people in the world. It is ridiculous that the right wing here in the US has decided that one has to agree with all of their policies including those involving the war in Iraq or they are not serious about terrorism.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at March 15, 2004 02:54 PM

Am I to assume that I'm now a right wing war blogger who went from saying "we're all Spaniards now" to damning the Spaniards? (If you note, I had no entry at all the day of the attacks, and have not written anywhere that "we're all Spaniards now.")

As I have long said, the main problem plaguing the Arab world in particular is tyranny. Until the tyrannies are toppled and the key natural resource of any society -- its people's creativity, energy and intelligence -- will chafe and fester. The war on terror is ultimately a war against tyranny.

If the Spanish election results were determined by an act of terror (and whether that's the case or not, it appears that some have already drawn that conclusion), then we have just seen the worst kind of thing for representative democracy -- voting influenced by the barrel of a gun. That is why so many are disappointed by the Spanish election results, myself included. And such success on the part of terrorists will likely lead to more, not less, terror, which is why so many people have a negative view of the results of the election.

My major concern is explained in the second half of my post -- that Europe will adopt a fortress mentality and give a free hand to police, ignoring civil liberties and targeting those people they're quite certain are behind the attacks. I'm sure neither of you are so naive as to assume that they'll be looking closely at Buddhists or Baptists.

Hoagland's piece was entitled, fittingly enough, "The Enemy Within." I presume he meant terrorists living in Europe, but absent the sort of controls civil society normally exerts on the police, those enemies lists will grow quite long indeed.

Posted by: Bill at March 15, 2004 04:45 PM

Bill: I agree with everything in your post and your comment except the disappointment over Spanish election results.

Terrorist attacks are unfortunately a part of our lives nowadays. Terrorists will thus choose time and place for attacks to maximize impact. If an attack happens just before an election, it can affect results in the sense that some people might change their vote while others might decide to vote or not vote. There is nothing we can do about that. I don't consider this to be much of a problem.

To be fair to you, I read your post after reading lots of over the top warblogger stuff on the Spanish elections. That might have colored my comment.

Posted by: Zack at March 15, 2004 08:13 PM

I am most definitely no right winger, but what's really ridiculous is the extent to which what is ostensibly informed opinion in the US fails to grasp that something has gone seriously wrong in political Europe.

I lived in Europe for several years pre-9/11; I was there on 9/11; and I was living there--as an immigrant--until a few weeks ago.

I saw and heard what happened. I felt it and I smelled it.

It is very difficult to make the point without mis-stating it, but BHL and company are right to associate the type and form of anti-Americanism that 9/11 unleashed with fascism or totalitarianism or whatever you want to call it.

I saw how my friends and acquaintances reacted to 9/11. I watched the whole progression, from the day itself through the first week, then the next, and the months that followed. And it is frightening. I have a much better sense now of how Hitler happened, and the holocaust.

The European public's opposition to the Iraq war was never serious--not morally, not intellectually, and certainly not pragmatically. It was grounded in the demonization and scapegoating of one of its others, and in a fundamental failure to face 9/11 and its aftermath seriously. And this, in turn, is grounded in a more fundamental failure to think politically and to understand some of the more important lessons of the 20th century, and to be sufficiently self-critical.

The European elite were never curious about how serious people in the US saw the situation. And given the nature of the European media, the general public never had a chance.

I know what sort of stuff you've been reading, Zack, and I'm with you in seeing obnoxiousness there. But, still, the fact that a jihadi massacre apparently produced the desired consequences is a bad thing, and an ominous portent.

Posted by: tm at March 15, 2004 11:37 PM

I respect Bill's opinion but I think Sullivan's column exemplifies the circular reasoning that adheres to the blanket assertion-thr-repetition that the Iraq War is the same as the Terror War.

I think there's a far simpler explanation to the vote outcome in Spain - and as Liberal oasis points out, the actual outcome was probably irrelevant to Al-Q if you take their long-range motivation into account.

The victory for Al-Qaeda was that they succeeded in carrying out their attack - and got loads of media coverage for it. The Spanish government was held accountable.

Posted by: Aziz at March 16, 2004 09:20 AM


My first comment was a bit poorly worded and I'm sorry if people misunderstood.

It is up to you to decide whether you are on the right wing or whether you are a war blogger. I first found out about the few "war blogger" pages I read through your site so I guess I do associate you with them but I also realize that each individual has their own particular views and I am somewhat familiar with yours.

I don't understand your post that having an election affected by violence or fears of violence is the worst thing for a democracy. If, as many assumed, the Spanish voters had gone for Aznar's party in large numbers in reaction to the violence would this have been bad too?

How about our 'war-president' Bush and the widespread belief that the war on terror should be the number one issue in our own elections?

What I am trying to say is that violence or the fear of violence or concerns about safety are often used to influence elections, and much more often to the benefit of the right wing than the left. What bothers me is that in this case, when the Spanish voters, for whatever reason, decided to vote for a different approach to the war on terror than that advocated by the right, they are immediately labelled as cowards and with other insults.

Zapatero said that his main priority is to deal with terrorism. To think that the only way to "really" deal with terrorism is to attack Iraq is silly.

By the way, Bill, I agree with the concerns you are mentioning as well and I don't necessarily think that all the other ways of dealing with "terrorism" will be kind to Muslims either.

Again, sorry if my comment was misunderstood.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at March 16, 2004 10:10 AM


I gather then that you surrender. What else can I conclude when you write,

Terrorist attacks are unfortunately a part of our lives nowadays. Terrorists will thus choose time and place for attacks to maximize impact. If an attack happens just before an election, it can affect results in the sense that some people might change their vote while others might decide to vote or not vote. There is nothing we can do about that. I don't consider this to be much of a problem.

Forgive me if I happen to consider this to be something of a problem. I live just a few blocks away from the Pentagon. On Sept. 11, I heard the roar of the jet over my house and felt the impact of the plane crashing into the building. I happen to think it's a problem, whether it's a stone's throw from my backyard or half way around the world. I also disagree with you that nothing can be done about it -- for much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Europe believed there was nothing that could be done about the Barbary Pirates, but Thomas Jefferson sent a naval detachment that thoroughly routed them and ended their depradations. What's required to defeat terror is political will.

Posted by: Bill at March 16, 2004 10:27 PM

Bill: I think you misunderstood. I was trying to say that nothing can be done about the incidental effects terrorism would have on elections. We should definitely take action against terrorist groups and try to end terrorism as such.

Posted by: Zack at March 16, 2004 11:35 PM