Just Above Sunset
March 21, 2004 - The Bombing and then the Vote in Spain Explained
What to make of the vote in Spain, a few days after the bombing that killed two hundred commuters? What to make of the folks tossing out the government that was with us in the Iraq war - in spite of the fact ninety percent of the population in Spain bitterly opposed that decision? It seems the voters are enthusiastic about installing a new government more independent and less compliant with anything George Bush says. Perhaps they felt their former leaders simply made them a target for no good reason.
Is this really local? The previous government madly spun the story that the Basques, the ETA, were responsible
for this. They pressured the media to accept this as true. They told the Germans and Interpol that this was so. No one
bought it. It wasn’t true. Well,
perhaps that alone caused the shift in the vote.
The thought last weekend was the Spanish people felt their support of Bush’s war had made them a target, and they didn’t like it much.
LONDON (Reuters) - If it was Islamist
militants who struck out of the blue in Madrid last week, then it will dash hopes that Western security forces had blunted
the threat from al Qaeda since September 11 and all Europe is at risk.
That idea gained momentum
all week long.
Jeff Jarvis observes: "In any case, it's a damned shame that terrorists can have an impact on the
election and can help bring in the side they apparently wanted."
And that view gained momentum all week long too, culminating in Bush’s speech this week on the anniversary of the start of the war. The idea there was no one could have “a separate peace.” Everyone had to join us in fighting terrorism. And that meant our war (disassembly) and reconstruction (reassembly) of Iraq.
The sticking point is all the commentators (left, mainly) all week long arguing their usual point, which has been taken up by John Kerry and the Democrats – the Iraq war was a war of choice against a country that turned out to be no real threat at all, with no real link to the actual bad guys, the real terrorists, al Queda. Bush and many of the administration now admit there was no link. Only Cheney holds the opposite view. The basic idea here is that this war was an inconceivably wrong-headed waste of time, money and lives. It bled resources that could have been used to go after the real bad guys, and resources that could have been used to increase domestic security. This is no sensible way to fight terrorism.
can see that. And the right claiming the Spanish don’t understand the evil
of fanatical Islam also seems a bit odd.
They don’t? I think the year was 711 when Muslim forces invaded and then in seven years finally
conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula. Their rule didn’t end until 1492
when Granada was conquered. El Cid and all that.
Glenn, they know. The center of Muslim rule was southern Spain - Andalusia. They know. And heck, the French know
too. If Charles Martel hadn’t stopped the Islamic army at what is now Lyon
the Rhône valley in 739 France would be even more Muslim than it is now. This
is basic stuff.
Spain Pulls Out of the Coalition of Grudgingly Willing - A Second Round of Scrutiny from the Other Side of the Pond
Spain? Obviously a nation of pragmatists or, looking at it the other way, a nation of cowards who don’t
see the nobility of our war on all evil and full of folks with an unreasonable hatred of the heroic George Bush… that
is, in Spain the craven appeasers of terrorism have won.
The right would like to set up the following argument: If there are no attacks between now and the election, then Bush has defended us from terror and deserves re-election; if there is an attack between now and the election, then voting for Kerry would be appeasement. Spain is just the dry-run.
So young. So cynical.
On The Other Hand
This fellow is fond of snarky logic. Harvard corrupts people, doesn’t it?
Then there is Christopher
Hitchens. He weighed in this week.
I find I can't quite decide what to recommend in the American case. I thought it was a good idea to remove troops from Saudi Arabia in any event (after all, we had removed the chief regional invader). But, even with the troops mainly departed, bombs continue to detonate in Saudi streets. We are, it seems, so far gone in sin and decadence that no repentance or penitence can be adequate. Perhaps, for the moment, it's enough punishment, and enough shame, just to know that what occurred in Madrid last week is all our fault. Now, let that sink in.
Hitchens suggests a problem
that admits of no possible solution. I guess he was having a bad day.
Let’s fall back for a moment and think about what this whole fight is about.
Al Qaida (and militant Islam generally) sees itself as the inheritor of a world-historical religious movement which,
according to their view of cosmology and eschatology, is supposed to be at the vanguard of history. In the orthodox Muslim view of history, the ‘lands of Islam’ expand but they never recede. The Islamic world should be the most powerful, the most advanced by various measures,
probably the wealthiest. Viewed from that perspective almost everything about
the contemporary world is turned upside down, almost a blasphemy in itself. The
US, from their perspective both a secular and a Christian power, is the dominant power even in the heartlands of Islam. Add to this that our secularism is another level of blasphemy. From the perspective of revanchist, militant Islam, almost everything about today’s world is nearly
the opposite of what they believe their religion says it should be. (Thus, they're somewhat aggravated.)
… In any case, just because al Qaida has adopted the Iraq cause as their own doesn’t mean we’ve damaged al Qaida by taking down the Baathist regime - especially by doing it so incompetently. Just as likely - in fact far more likely - is that we’ve just handed them a useful recruiting tool while distracting ourselves from pursuing more effective means of extirpating them.
In short? Just what Hitchens said, without the sarcasm. The war was
a dumb idea and didn’t help with terrorism at all.
But too, it’s not just the Spanish.
Thanks to George Paine here – this is also what happened this week.
Thursday Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski said he felt that Poland had been "taken for a ride" by the Bush Administration. Kwasniewski said, on the other hand, that Polish troops would remain in Iraq until the occupation is over, asking a group of French journalists - "What would be the point of pulling the troops if it meant a return to war, ethnic cleansing and conflict in neighboring countries?"
According to an AP report, however, Kwasniewski may be looking at withdrawing Polish forces ahead of schedule, because "Everything suggests that pullout from Iraq may be possible after the stabilization mission is crowned with success and, in my assessment soon, it may be the start of 2005."
Previously the planned pullout date for Polish forces in Iraq had been mid-2005.
What else did Paine survey?
The Italian government also appears to be feeling around, seeing if it's possible to criticize the Iraq war without major retribution from the United States.
Italian European Affairs Minister Rocco Buttiglione this week told the newspaper Il Messaggero that "The war may have been a mistake. Perhaps there were ways it could have been avoided." But as the interview continued Buttiglione went even further, saying "What is certain is that it wasn't the best thing to do."
There were four major Western or Eastern democratic nations in the Bush Administration's so-called Coalition of the Willing. Those four nations were Poland, Spain, Italy and Britain. Poland and Spain have now all but repudiated the war, and senior government officials in Italy are themselves repudiating the war in what may be a sign of future Italian government policy. Two thirds of Italians, according to a recent poll, support the full withdrawal of Italian troops and Carabinieri from Iraq.
As the LA Times reports, both the Netherlands and Honduras are withdrawing their military contributions from Iraq even as "diplomats speculate" that El Salvador and Guatemala will do the same.
Only Britain stands alone, and Tony Blair himself remains in serious political trouble due to the Iraq fiasco.
And if we lose Fiji?
It must be time for some of the brilliant Bush Administration diplomacy — as exemplified by Donald "I don't do diplomacy" Rumsfeld and John "Syria and Iran are next" Bolton — to kick into high gear and glue Coalitionstan back together. Such crack diplomacy seems, after all, to be the Bush Campaign's major campaign plank (along, of course, with the "bring it on" militarism and aggressiveness) this year.
This is what happens when you treat allies like mushrooms. This is what happens when you feed long-term, traditional allies lies in order to get them to participate in your war. Some allies are willing to go along initially out of respect for the long-term relationship, but as soon as it becomes absolutely clear that they've been "taken for a ride" they, fortunately or not, change their tune.
Ouch! That’s harsh. And Paine did that summary before South Korea announced that although they’re sending three or four thousand troops, they won’t deploy them to northern Iraq as we commanded them to do. Too dangerous. A lot of them might die. And they have their own domestic political considerations back in their corner of Asia.
Seems Bush can’t catch a break this week.
Well, it does come down to credibility. Our position? This: the Iraq business will make things better and is actually CENTRAL to fighting terrorism – trust us. Really.
That ceased to be an easy sell this week. Spain, Poland, maybe Italy, South Korea – not to mention Netherlands and Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala - are possibly bailing on us.
What happened here? Why aren’t the countries buying our view of things?
This is not good. We can call these peoples cowards and mock and insult them and chant we’re right over and over, but that doesn’t seem wise. As a method of keeping other nations with us through thick and thin, this sort of talk, although the rhetoric of choice for our government, may no longer work, if it every did.
And then there are our own political concerns at home. Bush is up for reelection [sic] isn’t he?
Here’s what Josh Marshall says about that this weekend, in thinking through how all the events this week might be something Bush’s opponent might consider:
Well, maybe it does.
So these bombs go off in Spain. More than two hundred die. And the Spanish and then a whole lot of others step back and question what we’re doing. We took out Saddam Hussein. So what?
A lot of the world previously with us is calling for a “time out” to rethink this. Is there a better way to make the world safer than what we’ve been trying? Maybe this destroy and rebuild Iraq effort isn’t working so well.
This is not a question Bush needed coming up in an election year. His supporters can mock all these nations and call them cowardly quitters. Bush himself can plead with them to stick by his idea that reinventing Iraq as a secular democracy as the one single absolutely key effort in fighting terrorism.
But there were no weapons of mass destruction, finally, to prove his case about any immediate threat there, and his administration had to admit Iraq really wasn’t in cahoots with al Qaida – there was, finally, no evidence of that - and only the American people believe that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis planned and carried out the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks more than two years ago.
So in one week the world says hey, let’s step back and think about this. And we are reduced to saying please don’t DO THAT! - Just trust us.
And a single answer comes back. Why?
Oh, and by the way, folks really are thinking of alternatives. Richard Overy is a professor of modern history at King's College London, and author of The Dictators, which will be published by Penguin in June.
In the Guardian (UK) this weekend he offers this:
Understanding those issues on their own terms and adjusting our politics? We here in United States have chosen a leader who doesn’t do such nuance. That we will probably elect him for another four-year term suggests that as a people we ourselves don’t so such nuance. Blair may make adjustments. He may have to make adjustments. But recall Bush’s interview with Tim Russert a few weeks ago – “I’m not going to change, see?” How many times did he say that, knowing how much that would please the American public? For us, leadership is not ever changing you mind.
Understanding those issues on their own terms and adjusting our politics? We see that concept as precisely an endorsement of violence. How else would you see it? Understanding stuff is for wimps.
One is reminded of a quip from John Maynard Keynes - "When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?"
Bush wouldn't get the joke.
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