Fallout from the Madrid Attacks

"Events, dear boy, events," British Statesman Harold Macmillan famously replied when asked what governments most fear.

"Events, dear boy, events," British Statesman Harold Macmillan famously replied when asked what governments most fear. He meant, of course, those real life happenings that can appear out of  seemingly clear blue skies - events such as the Spanish people's brutal dismissal from power of Jose Maria Aznar's ruling Partido Popular (PP) .

This wholly unexpected ending of conservative rule in Spain surely had the lights burning late at the White House and Foggy Bottom last week.  The sensational result of Spain's general election on March 14 not only robs President Bush and America of a staunch and politically courageous ally in the war against terror, but it could also ignominiously undermine the whole enterprise.  

Nor is that all. Within Europe, Spain's new socialist government will be an eager participant in moves that further the agenda of those determined to thwart or constrain what they see as American ‘unilateralism'.

Prime Minister-elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has already confirmed the implacable opposition of his party - the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) - to the war in Iraq and the continuing occupation. In his first press conference after his victory, he reaffirmed that he will withdraw Spain's 1,300-strong military force in Iraq by the end of June if the scheduled transfer of sovereignty does not take place.

The new occupant of the Moncloa Palace (home of Spanish Prime Ministers) is indeed a totally different animal from the man he succeeds. 

The 44-year-old Zapatero, a lawyer, has the full set of European left-wing, politically-correct attitudes, including - it hardly needs saying - visceral contempt for America - a Republican-led America above all. This is the party leader who, last October, refused to join King Juan Carlos and government ministers in standing and applauding the U.S. flag as it was marched past the reviewing stand during a military parade in Madrid to mark Spain's national day.

This is the prime minister-elect who, within hours of his victory at the polls - a triumph that came almost certainly courtesy of the Islamic terrorists who slaughtered 200 people in bomb attacks on crowded early morning commuter trains in Madrid only three days before - sees fit to instruct President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to ‘engage in some self-criticism" over the decision to invade Iraq. 

And this is the statesman who airily proclaims that "wars such as those which have occurred in Iraq only allow hatred, violence and terror to proliferate" -  seemingly oblivious of the fact that this is exactly what Saddam Hussein inflicted on his hapless people  for decades.

Meanwhile, Zapatero cannot wait to begin ingratiating himself with Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Shroeder and ending the froideur  caused by Aznar's refusal to fall in with their ruthless determination to ensure that the EU develops in line with Franco-German self-interest.  The possibility of Zapatero even thinking of defying the EU's Big Two in any difference of opinion with the U.S. is zero.

But though the thought of Spain's abrupt departure from the ‘coalition of the willing' is worrying enough for U.S.  policymakers,  the reason for it is cause for even greater concern. 

Four days before the election, Aznar's party, under his designated successor Mariano Rajoy (Aznar had earlier announced he was stepping down as leader after his two terms in office), was coasting to a third consecutive win. 

Against the backdrop of a booming economy, enjoying falling inflation and rising employment,  the polls were unanimous in showing that Spaniards had little interest in a socialist mix of policies that were economically risky and socially liberal.

Then came the Madrid bombings on March 11.

At first it was assumed, justifiably, that this barbarism was the work of the Basque terrorist group ETA, whose recent attempts to carry out atrocities in Madrid had been thwarted by the security services. Had it been the work of ETA,  the PP would doubtless have won the election with even greater ease than seemed likely up to the 24 hours before. 

But it turns out that the perpetrators were almost certainly Islamic terrorists, who seem, as of this writing, to have links with Al-Qaeda. 

This revelation changed everything.  To shocked and angry Spaniards, the slaughter no longer seemed an assault on democracy demanding a show of solidarity. Rather it became - with the artful assistance or at the very least tacit agreement of  Zapatero's socialist and their political and media allies - a savage blow struck solely as a result of Aznar's decision to involve Spain in an enterprise overwhelmingly opposed by the its people.

Mobs ‘spontaneously' demonstrating outside PP offices in major cities on the day before the election carried placards saying "Aznar assassin," "Thanks Aznar for the war in Iraq: consequence - 200 dead" and "You fascists are the terrorists."

The next day, in a turnout almost 10 per cent higher than in the election four years ago, the voters did indeed act as though they wished to punish the PP  for what had been inflicted upon them because of  Spain's involvement in Iraq.  

So much for the massed demonstrations, the day after the bombings, at which the Spanish people, in their millions, declared their refusal to be cowed by terrorism. 

Attempting to take some comfort from the events of a traumatic and tumultuous four days, politicians and commentators have claimed that the trouble-free election and the high voter participation were a ‘victory for democracy.'  

The brutal truth, of course, is that the election was not a victory for democracy but for terrorists, who have got the very result that they intended. The land of the conquistadors has chosen appeasement rather than defiance.

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