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March 16, 2004

Jose Luis Roderigo Zapatero, Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, promises to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, blaming the American war there for provoking last week’s terrorist bombings in Madrid. Those bombings, thought to be the work of al-Qaeda, gave his party its upset victory in Sunday’s election.

Have the Spanish voters “capitulated to terrorism,” as many American supporters of the war charge? Or are they merely showing Sancho Panza’s common sense against Don Quixote’s delusions?

Elections are package deals, and it’s often a mistake to read too much specific meaning into them, but this one seems pretty clear. A decisive number of Spaniards have chosen to disengage from the American folly their previous government dragged them into.

Opponents of the Iraq war all over the world argued that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and they were right. They feared that a misguided war on Iraq would not defeat terrorism, but provoke more of it. Right again.

President Bush and Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, instantly called the Madrid bombings confirmation of the need to carry on their war. But it was actually proof that their war has been worse than futile. After a “preemptive” war for “regime change” in Iraq, Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and captured. His “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t exist; neither did his “links to terrorists”; and his defeat hasn’t resulted in a “wave of democratization” in the Middle East that would bring terrorism to an end.

No, it was a war for a fantasy, and with the endless occupation, reality is having the last word. The similar war on Afghanistan has also apparently failed to achieve what was claimed for it: a decisive disruption of al-Qaeda’s ability to operate.

[Breaker quote: Sancho Panza in the voting booth]Spain has learned the hard way the cost of following America’s leadership: not more security, but less. It has gained less than nothing from the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Other countries will take note as they decide whether to act as Bush flunkeys.

An inscrutable genie is out of the bottle. The impact of terrorism is greatly magnified by television; for a large nation, 200 deaths — or even 3,000 — is really no more than a nasty little wound. But it’s enough to cause hysteria and topple governments, because it raises fears of even worse calamities. We don’t know what to expect or how to prepare; the natural reaction to an invisible enemy is to overreact in every direction.

The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were overreactions, and the Madrid bombings were a mocking answer from the unknown enemy. They made it clear that the Bush administration, for all its bluster and bravado, really doesn’t know what it’s doing. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, it storms and rages and flails wildly, not knowing what to swing at.

You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists, Bush warned the world. So Spain joined us and got the terrorists. “Old Europe,” angrily derided for prudently standing aside, must feel it made the right decision.

After telling us this was a new kind of war, Bush proceeded to fight an old kind of war, against a centralized government under a presumed mastermind, Saddam Hussein. Victory was easy, except for one thing: Saddam wasn’t the enemy. Even within his own regime he was a pretty derelict sort of mastermind, taken for a ride by his own scientists. Routing his forces, smashing his regime, capturing him — all this meant nothing. The real enemy, dispersed and elusive, is still in business.

And who is the mastermind, the superintending intelligence of the terrorists? Osama bin Laden? If he is caught, it will be announced as a triumphant conclusion — but this is a new kind of war, against a decentralized federation, not a chess game where you win when you trap the king. It may go on indefinitely, long after Osama has gone to his paradisaical virgins. He couldn’t call it off if he wanted to. It began because of American meddling in the Middle East, and it will go on as long as that meddling continues. Spain is just the latest Western country to realize this.

America too has a superintending intelligence guiding its efforts. For the time being, unfortunately, the American mastermind is George W. Bush.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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