March 16, 2004
Luis Roderigo Zapatero, Spains new
Socialist prime minister, promises to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq,
blaming the American war there for provoking last weeks terrorist
bombings in Madrid. Those bombings, thought to be the work of al-Qaeda,
gave his party its upset victory in Sundays election.
Have the Spanish voters
capitulated to terrorism, as many American supporters of
the war charge? Or are they merely showing Sancho Panzas
common sense against Don Quixotes delusions?
Elections are package deals, and
its 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
Britains 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 didnt exist; neither did his links
to terrorists; and his defeat hasnt 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-Qaedas ability to
has learned the hard way the cost of following
Americas 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 its enough to cause hysteria and
topple governments, because it raises fears of even worse calamities. We
dont 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 doesnt know what its
doing. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, it storms and
rages and flails wildly, not knowing what to swing at.
Youre either with us or
youre 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 wasnt 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 couldnt 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.