If the carnage in Spain and its political consequences represent a defeat for liberal civilization and a victory for its Islamist enemies, the wisest response for civilization’s defenders is to examine the events and policies that led us here. That effort requires more than ritual denunciation of the Spanish people and our other alienated allies in Europe. Such simple-minded reactions only amplify divisions we cannot afford in the just war against Al Qaeda. Every essay by a “conservative” attacking Europe must bring joy to Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be.
Rather than using the events in Spain to retroactively justify the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, honest analysis must acknowledge that last year’s invasion of Iraq was a serious strategic error. By rejecting multilateralism in pursuit of their “pre-emptive” doctrine, the President and his advisers damaged American credibility, weakened the Western alliance and created the situation now being exploited by Al Qaeda.
There may well have been voters in Spain who foolishly cast their ballots for the Socialist Workers Party in the hope that withdrawal from Iraq would protect them from future attacks. The next attack, in France or Germany perhaps, may disabuse them of that illusion. Many more rejected the right-wing Popular Party because they believed that its leaders were lying to them about the Madrid attacks-and had lied about Iraq to justify the government’s profoundly unpopular support of that war.
Their resounding rebuke of George W. Bush is the price of deception.
When the Islamist fanatics first struck on American soil in September 2001, the Spaniards and all Europeans stood with us in complete solidarity. In utter sincerity, they declared: “We are all Americans now.” Those emotional expressions were given weight by their own experience with terrorist attacks by both indigenous and foreign killers. The Spanish authorities in particular had spent many years fighting the violent separatists of E.T.A., with the full support of the citizenry. The Spanish people have shown no inclination to appease Basque terror, despite the more than 800 deaths attributed to E.T.A. attacks; they have answered every E.T.A. outrage with massive demonstrations, not unlike those that took place last week across Spain.
After the perpetrators of Sept. 11 were traced to extremist networks in Spain, again the Spanish people betrayed no reluctance to assist in prosecuting the guilty parties. Their intelligence services and legal authorities have been as aggressive as any in the world, cooperating with foreign governments and raiding suspected Islamist cells. The man most admired in Spain by far happens to be Baltazar Garzon, the judge celebrated for his courageous scourging of E.T.A. and Al Qaeda (and Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, but that’s a different story).
In short, the Popular Party’s hard line against E.T.A.-and Al Qaeda-was no political liability in Spain. To claim otherwise is yet another lie.
Nor have the people of Spain avoided sacrifice in the real war against terrorism. When the United States declared hostilities against the Taliban, announcing its determination to extirpate our assailants in Afghanistan, the Spaniards did more than merely voice their support. Along with the French, the Germans, the Russians and a broad coalition of allies from around the world, they made that just cause their own. Soldiers from many of those nations still serve in Afghanistan and the surrounding region, a terribly dangerous place made more so by our distracted government’s failure to focus on reconstruction and security.
Too many Americans too easily ignore the contributions made in blood and treasure by our European allies in the Afghan conflict. Early in 2002, Spain sent 120 peacekeepers to the International Security Assistance Force. Last May, they lost 62 of those soldiers when an airplane bringing them home crashed in Turkey. There were no mass demonstrations demanding the end of Spanish participation in that international coalition.
Neither ideological inconsistency nor moral cowardice explains why the Spanish electorate dumped the discredited conservatives. The Bush administration’s reckless drive to war in Iraq, against majority dissent in Spain and elsewhere, undermined support for the United States. Since then, people around the world have been confirmed in their worst suspicions about the purported causes of that war. Now we are discovering the destructive impact of the lies told by our own leaders and diplomats, about Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction and cooperation with Al Qaeda.
The neoconservative strategy in Iraq has proved wrong in almost every particular. The costs of the war have been far greater than predicted, while the benefits remain in grave doubt. Meanwhile the Western alliance continues to decline, as does the moral reputation of the United States.
We certainly have enemies who are working to destroy us. We must use every instrument at our disposal to destroy them instead, including diplomacy, intelligence, foreign assistance and-sometimes-military force. Before their next assault, however, we should ask ourselves why we have made it so easy for our enemies to separate us from our friends.