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Spain Has Voted. What Has She Chosen?
by George de Poor Handlery
16 March 2004Spanish Flag

There are three consequences of al Qaeda’s successful intervention in the Spanish political process.


Spain has voted. The country has removed its conservative governing party (the Popular Party) in favor of the Socialists. Some aspects of this decision would hardly warrant a commentary, as quite a bit about the result is “standard.”

When the Popular Party was elected four years ago the electorate did so because it experienced in practice that Socialism works better in the realm of promises than in real life. The global downturn, and the slow upturn -- neither of which was caused by the governments of the industrialized world -- had a lot to do with the weakening of the conservatives.  In the face of trends governments can mitigate or worsen the effect of crisis: avoiding them is not an option. Premier Aznar’s government moderated the crisis, and by facilitating the adjustment to the new phase of the industrial revolution, the process had a chance of being shortened. Germany’s reigning Social Democrats worsened the adjustment process and are unlikely to survive the next election. For months, there has bee an upturn; however, the effects have yet to impact on the typically lagging consciousness of the man-in-the-street. This made the race between the PP and the SPOE in Spain into a toss up.

Then came 3-11, Madrid’s version of 9-11. As this is being written, the lion’s share of the evidence points to al Qaeda as the perpetrator of an attack that cost the lives of  over two hundred commuters. This mass assassination has, as we can tell now, changed everything regarding the election. From the Jihadists’ point of view, not unexpectedly. According to their own statements they timed their attack on the “crusaders” with the election in mind. This reveals that the Islamist attack intended to influence the election results. Indeed, the victory of the Socialists demonstrates that the authoritarian terrorists had a good understanding how free societies function and made superb use of their insights.

Why did al Qaeda want the Socialists to win? The Conservatives had made Spain one of the few supporters of the United States’ intervention in Iraq. By this earlier decision, they were committed to the pursuit of a hard line against the Jihadists in the future. As for the Socialists, their past and greater ideological distance from America promised a soft, or at least a softer, line in the struggle, “The Modern World vs. The Seventh Century.”

Indeed, there are three consequences of al Qaeda’s successful intervention in the Spanish political process. The first two -- the most direct and obvious ones -- are less consequential than the third, indirect effect.

We can count on two actions of the new Spanish government. The first is the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. (As the first draft of the article was being written, this was a prediction. By the time of the second draft, what was forecast became news.) The second upshot of the change in Spain will be the withdrawal of the political support hitherto extended to the US and to the global struggle against terrorism. Washington will be lucky if the new Spanish government, following its convictions and in the hope of buying the good will of the Osamas, will not switch over to the “camp of peace” (correctly appeasement), and take on an active role there. Given their country’s previous position, this change of sides will be quite effective politically and serve as valuable PR for the international America-bashers. The US’ isolation will grow. Only the November elections will tell whether this “growth” will be accompanied by a corresponding shrinkage of America’s hither resolve.

There will also be consequences for the emerging united Europe. About this there is no reason to assume an interest on the part of al Qaeda. Nevertheless, the matter’s significance is not diminished by this forecasted fact. Until now it was Spain and Poland that led the struggle to prevent the EU from evolving into an organization dominated by the “Big” countries, primarily France and its wake, Germany. Let us remember that centralism happens to be, for ideological reasons, near to the Socialist.  

Thirdly, as the last item mentioned here, but by its significance the most important matter, is the general impact of the terror followed by elections. The decisive element of the Spanish electorate has done more than put into power an opposition that is less committed than the old government. In doing so, Spain showed that terror pays. Short of reversing the driving out of the Moslems in the 15th century, al Qaeda got, through the generous application of TNT to a free society, the best government it could hope for.

What the average man in Spain who voted with 3-11 in mind hoped to achieve was to change the government so that the Moslem terrorists will not feel it necessary to hit the country again. In a way this calculation is likely to prove correct –for a time. Al Qaeda will undoubtedly repeat the pattern that worked in Spain. At first the other “front-line states” opposing them will be handled. Then it will be the turn of the hitherto wishy-washy ones. This process will be likely to give Spain immunity from the Jihadists –but also less peace from their own ETA. The rest of the countries opposing radical Islam will get more terror as a result of the lessons from Iberia. The intensification of global terrorism is practically a done deal.

Related to the above, but nevertheless a background factor of enhanced significance, is a demonstrated inclination of free societies to make certain mistakes. Free societies are such because they know how to compromise and master the art of reconciliation between positions in a manner that creates deals with which all parties can live. In this case, giving in a bit results in concessions by the other party that, in the end, generates benefits for both. What the politically uninterested, call them dormant, members of free societies have a hard time comprehending when something thunderous mobilizes them is that, not all systems function the way theirs does. The sequence, “concession -- acceptance -- peaceful coexistence,” is a possible progression but not a necessary one. Some movements that carry exclusive ideologies see another chain of events. It runs like this: “weakness” leads to “concession.” Concessions are made by “them,” who are weak and cowardly. The concession provides “us” with a new field to play the next round on: with one that inclines more than before to the disadvantage of “them.” Repeat this process a few times and “they” will barely be able to hang over the gulch at the end of the remnant that is left of their original half. That is the moment when they will be forced to end the game by becoming “us.”

Making concessions can buy you peace for a while. It will intensify the action on the other fronts. If and when “they” win, they will come back with new demands. Then, however, the old game will not be repeatable, for there will be nothing left to trade for benefit of being left alone a bit longer. 

Shortly after publication of this article, a Hungarian daily, Magyar Nemzet, published the following:

Hungary (like Spain) has also become a front line state by having troops in Iraq. Our politicians have competed with each other for Washington's sympathy. ... Even though Hungary is not dependent of the USA politically or economically. We went to war for a few group photo opportunities. ...The terrorists do not care how many countries the US occupies, how many national economies American companies pick to be plucked by them.  ....The terrorists will always fight their enemies.... We do not belong to any one of the camps (in conflict). Just like Madrid did not know where it is made to march, so is also the case of Budapest. Madrid does not know whose war it is fighting -nor does Budapest. Madrid has now figured this out. May God save us from being awakened in the same manner Madrid was. Let us resign from the war of others. As long as it is still not too late...

George Handlery is a recently retired historian. He has lived and taught in Europe since 1976.

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