|New York Times
No Vote for Al Qaeda
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN March 25, 2004
is nothing more important for the future of Western democracies than
the question of whether, in the wake of the Madrid bombings, the new
Spanish government will go ahead with its plan to withdraw Spanish
forces from Iraq — unless the U.N. assumes control of the
forces there by June 30. If Spain goes ahead, every terrorist in
world will celebrate, and every democracy will be a little more
endangered. I so hope Spain's incoming prime minister,
Rodríguez Zapatero, reconsiders this decision.
Why? To answer that question I need to draw an analogy with a different era of Spanish history: the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, where all the big powers of that day tested out the weapons they would employ in World War II.
So here's my analogy: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the war on terrorism what the Spanish Civil War was to World War II. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is where airline hijacking, suicide bombing and assassinations with helicopter-mounted guided missiles were all perfected and made ready for export.
But it's not only types of violence that were perfected there. It was also there where Palestinian terrorists regularly attempted to hijack democratic elections on the eve of the vote. Liberal Labor Party candidates in Israel, throughout the 1980's and 1990's, always had to hold their breath that there would not be a big terrorist attack on the eve of an election. Because if there was, swing voters would usually move to the right and the Likud candidate would benefit. The Palestinian terrorists always "voted" Likud, not Labor. They wanted hard-liners at the helm in Israel because they would build more settlements and further radicalize and destabilize the situation.
In 1996, shortly after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres was leading Bibi Netanyahu by 20 points in opinion polls. Then Islamic terrorists unleashed bus bombings, killing 59 Israelis. Mr. Peres saw his lead wiped out, and then lost the election by a tiny margin. Suicide bombing totally undermined Labor's Ehud Barak and helped elect Ariel Sharon in 2001. So terrorists have been voting in Israel's elections for a long time.
What the Madrid bombings, just before the Spanish elections, represent is the Islamist terrorists' first attempt to hijack a democratic election in Western Europe.
Yes, yes, I know all the fine print. People say that the reason the ruling conservative party lost to the Socialists in Spain was because the conservatives tried to mislead the Spanish people by suggesting that the bombings were the work of Basque separatists, not Al Qaeda sympathizers unhappy with Spain's role in Iraq. And therefore, in voting for the Socialists, who were running on a pledge to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq, the Spanish people were voting for truth in government — not to appease the Islamists by voting in the party that would pull out of Iraq.
Maybe that's true. Personally, I believe it's naïve to think that truth-in-government was the only thing motivating anguished Spanish swing voters after the bombings, and that there was not a twitch of appeasement in the air. But here's what I know for sure: Al Qaeda doesn't do exit polling. Al Qaeda does big picture.
If Mr. Zapatero goes through with his troop withdrawal from Iraq, Islamist terrorists will attribute it to the Madrid bombing. This big picture will absolutely encourage them to try this tactic, perfected in Israel and now imported to Spain, in other European or U.S. elections — to tilt the vote one way or another.
"The Spanish Civil War tested only weapons," said the Israeli political
theorist Yaron Ezrahi. "The terrorism we have seen in
Israel, and may
soon see more of in Europe, is testing the fabric of democratic
societies. What is being tested in Spain is this
question: Does it pay
for terrorists to try to hijack democratic elections? We have a
clear-cut challenge here, and it must be met with an equally clear-cut
response. Are leaders of
Western nations going to reward the terrorists
in their attempt to hijack democratic elections in a major European
state or make them fail?"
If the European Union was thinking long-term, it would hold an emergency meeting and announce that each E.U. country would be sending 100 men to stand alongside the 1,300 Spanish soldiers in Iraq to help protect the Iraqi people as they try to organize their first democratic election — free of intimidation by terrorists.
That is a big picture that would make Al Qaeda weep.