March 21, 2004 | Townhall

The Price of Spain’s Appeasement

The savage terror attack in Madrid was said to be Europe's 9-11. To many observers March 11 quickly became Spain's day of infamy. Instead, March 14, the day of the Spanish elections, has since eclipsed the attack and should go down in history as Spain's national day of shame. On that day the Spanish electorate, by reversing itself and suddenly voting for the Socialist Workers Party, caved in to terrorism and gave the Al Qaeda mass-murderers their first significant victory in their war against the West.

As one British commentator noted, despite Spain's massive rallies against terrorism, “All those umbrellas in the rain at Friday's marches proved to be pretty pictures for the cameras, nothing more.”  The Spanish reaction was truly unfortunate. When Spaniards thought ETA set the bombs, they were angry at ETA. When they later thought Muslim extremists were responsible, they blamed outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and President G. W. Bush.

 True, the Spanish government, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, initially appeared hell-bent on proving that the homegrown ETA Basque terrorists were responsible for the attack. And while it is still to soon to know whether ETA may have collaborated with Al Qaeda or other Islamist groups in the barbarism, many Spaniards felt angry at what seemed like government manipulation of the catastrophe.

But, by venting their fear and rage at the government rather than the terrorists the Spanish did nothing more than reward brutal terrorism.

In his 1996 “Declaration of War Against the Americans,” Bin Laden cited Washington's retreat in the face of the 1992 Aden hotel bombings and the Black Hawk Down fiasco in Somalia in 1993: “You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew. The extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Those signs of weakness only emboldened the terrorists to launch even greater attacks against the United States.

The 9-11 attacks however backfired on Al Qaeda. The Bush administration rightly treated the attacks as an act of war rather than criminal behavior, as the Clinton White House had done, and many Europeans continue to do. Rather than wait for another attack on its home turf America quickly took the battle to the enemy. Since 9-11 Al Qaeda and its allies have faced only dramatic and resolute US actions.

America, with grim determination has expelled the terrorist parasites and their Taliban hosts from Afghanistan and along with Pakistani forces are closing in on Osama himself. The global war on terror is being fought steadily, albeit slowly. Al Qaeda's leadership and structure has been decimated and what is left of it is being strangled in the mountains and caves of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan along with those “volunteers” and “martyrs” being killed and captured daily in Iraq and elsewhere.

With their future looking dim, and unable to launch any attacks in the United States for over two and a half years, Al Qaeda first focused their decentalized efforts on soft targets in the Muslim world.

Yet, the attacks in Bali, Casablanca, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also backfired and only strengthened the resolve of the Islamic partners in the anti-terror coalition. And as recent intelligence in Iraq has shown, the foreign Islamist terrorists there have admitted they are losing that battle too as Iraq rebuilds and gets closer to regaining it sovereignty in July.

Mounting attacks against Iraqi civilians have been predicted for weeks and are nothing more than acts of desperation intended — so far unsuccessfully — to provoke civil conflict prior to the transfer of authority. Al Qaeda's hope of defeating America in Iraq is quickly fading.

With their options limited and sensing an opportunity — and a weak link — in the Western coalition of the willing, the increasingly desperate Jihadists then struck in Spain.

Sadly, Spain's short-sighted reaction to the terrorists may now have given these desperate fanatics hope. These mass murderers now see that a few small, well-placed bombs there can dramatically alter the course of elections and government policy in their favor. As with Britain's early appeasement of Hitler in the 1930's, Spain's weakness in the face of this evil fanaticism will only breed more violence.  

It is painfully obvious that Spain's Socialists and pacifists, along with many other Europeans fundamentally misunderstand this terror menace. European Commission President Romano Prodi declared: “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists.” To make his case Prodi cites the increased terrorism since the Iraq war. Yet, according to that argument, using force against Hitler was not the answer to defeating Hitler in the first years of World War II since it only increased the violence in the near term.

And in a press conference with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said of terrorism: “Military force is not the only solution. One needs to look at the roots of it, including lack of development in the developing world.” Schroeder and Chirac's standard leftist cliche that poverty breeds terrorism ignores that most of the 19 terrorists hijackers responsible for 9-11 were educated, middle class Saudis.

Saudi Arabia, home base for Sunni Wahhabism, is one of the most developed nations in the Middle East and Osama bin Laden is a multimillionaire. As with the Nazis, ideological fanaticism — not economics — drives this conflict. While military force is not the only solution, it is a vitally necessary one.

Meanwhile, Spain's new Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero believes that the train bombing was in retaliation for Spain's involvement in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. Too bad that the facts do not support such a facile claim. Realize that the “Islamofascist” terror cells involved in the terror attacks in Madrid were in place far before the Iraq war and have even been implicated in the 9-11 attacks on the US.

NATO, of which Spain is an active member, currently has thousands of troops in Afghanistan, and that is far more of provocation to Al Qaeda than the US-led Iraq war. Turkey, under its first Islamist government blocked US military actions in Iraq but was bombed anyway. Muslim Morocco, neutral on the Iraq war, suffered similar bloody terror attacks. France, the leader of the pro-Saddam/anti-US coalition has been receiving Islamist threats because of its ban on burqas for Muslim school girls.

The Spanish, and many other Europeans fail to understand is that this is a war by Islamist fanatics against the entire West — as well as “apostate” Islamic regimes that are simply not Islamic enough. The US may be the Great Satan to them, but Europeans and other Westerners are all little Satans. In fact Spain is also special case. The Islamists themselves claim Spain as part of their great Islamic Empire and still recall the Spanish Reconquista that ended 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain in 1492.

So, when Bin Laden vows to avenge the “tragedy of Andalucia” [loss of Spain], it's not just flowery rhetoric. He means it. Removing Spain's token force of 1,300 soldiers from Iraq will not appease these fanatics, only converting Spain to Islam will do that.

Spain's misguided actions have dramatically increased the chances of Islamist terror attacks in Western Europe. Britain, under Prime Minister Tony Blair can be expected to be high on Al Qaeda's hit list as is Italy under Prime Minister Berlosconi. Poland too can now probably expect attacks.

And if terrorism can change elections and promote appeasement in European countries, Al Qaeda may now think it is worth trying a pre-November election attacks on soft targets such as trains, cruise liners, shopping malls and football stadiums in the United States. Spain's appeasement may have condemned all of us to much more terrorism.

Paul Crespo is a former Marine Corps officer who served as a military attache' at American embassies in Europe and the Middle East. Previously a member of The Miami Herald editorial board, he teaches politics at the University of Miami and is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. This column appears this week in English and Spanish in Tiempos del Mundo.