Andrew Sullivan’s take on the new Spanish Tragedy (Thomas Kyd, call your office), with thanks to Peter Rockas:
Europe’s Second Munich?
March 11, 2004, was easily the greatest victory for terrorism since 9/11 itself. It was a victory not simply because so many innocents were murdered in cold blood – going about their business in a free and democratic society. We know how thrilled the Jihadist terrorists are when they can murder in large numbers – as they have now done in Iraq and Morocco and Bali and New York. It was a victory because it also succeeded in provoking the one response terrorists long for and feed upon. Faced with mass murder, the Spanish electorate voted to give the Jihadists what they were demanding: withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. 3/11 was a reprise of 9/11. But this time it worked. Instead of rising up in anger against the mass murderers of the new fascist movement in the Islamic world, as the United States did, Spain did the reverse. It gave in. In the hope of avoiding future violence, the new Spanish government reiterated its decision to abandon Iraq to the prospect of chaos and Islamist revolution, rather than refuse to be intimidated by mass murder. It is very, very rare for terrorists to score such a clear-cut triumph. Usually, even craven democratic governments talk the talk of confronting terror, while quietly scurrying in the opposite direction. But this time, Zapatero was virtually emphatic in his eagerness to accede to the terrorists’ demands.
Do I exaggerate? Last December, CNN recovered various documents on Internet message boards detailing al Qaeda’s intermediate goals in the war against the West. “We think the Spanish government will not stand more than two blows, or three at the most,” the document said, “before it will be forced to withdraw because of the public pressure on it. If its forces remain after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party will be almost guaranteed – and the withdrawal of Spanish forces will be on its campaign manifesto.” How modest in retrospect their ambitions were! They didn’t need more than one blow; and they didn’t just get the troop withdrawal in the Socialist manifesto; they got the Socialists elected. Last week, days after the triumph in Spain, another al Qaeda-related group rejoiced in the success of its strategy: “Because of this [electoral] decision, the leadership has decided to stop all operations within the Spanish territories… until we know the intentions of the new government that has promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. And we repeat this to all the brigades present in European lands: stop all operations.” It’s simple really. Bomb and murder your way in order to achieve your political goals; and if you succeed, reward the governments you have intimidated – while making sure they realize that the option of renewing violence is always available. Zapatero now knows that if he doesn’t remove troops from Iraq, Spain will be targeted again. There’s an obvious description for what has just taken place: caving in to blackmail.
And now, of course, the risk to all of Europe has been ratcheted up exponentially. If I lived in Rome or London or Warsaw right now, I’d be very afraid because of what has just happened in Madrid. The possibility of a capture of a major al Qaeda figure in Pakistan does not change this equation. Al Qaeda and its multiple off-shoots are decentralized, often autonomous and able to act without central command. And they have learned one important thing from last week: If it worked once, why not try it again? Blair is a far more tempting target than Aznar, and a truly spectacular attack on London – using biological or chemical weapons – might surely be worth trying to get rid of him. After all, al Qaeda and its multiple off-shoots have learned a couple of things recently. The first is that the U.S. will not cower before a terror attack. Bin Laden misjudged that one on 9/11, foolishly believing that he could move American public policy in his direction by shell-shocking the American public. He was hoping for classic isolationism in response to the casualties of that awful day. Wrong. In fact, the opposite happened – a huge miscalculation on al Qaeda’s part, which led to the destruction of their client state, Afghanistan, the removal of a de facto anti-American ally, Saddam, and, even worse from their point of view, the possibility of constitutional democracies in two Islamic lands, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Anglo-American counter-attack also took Libya out of the WMD equation, and sent reverberations of democratic unrest into Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
But now the Jihadists know something else: that the 9/11 gambit can work in Europe. Starting with Spain, thereby wrecking the anti-terror alliance of New Europe, was a master-stroke. But it has an added effect of demoralizing the others. Last week, the Polish prime minister for the first time spoke of his uncertainty about retaining forces in Iraq next year. Berlusconi and Blair are obviously next on the list. And that’s why Romano Prodi’s astonishing disavowal of any force in response to terrorism was so devastating. “It is clear,” Prodi opined immediately after the Madrid horror, “that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists.” The sentiment is sickeningly defeatist in itself. But the timing was a de facto announcement of surrender. No wonder that a day later another Islamist group threatened France with mass murder if the French government didn’t relent in its ban on head-scarves. What’s the cost of violence, after all, if your enemy has announced in advance that it will never retaliate?
A classic statement of appeasement appeared the day after the Madrid massacre in the Guardian. It’s worth revisiting because its moral vacuity and strategic stupidity sum up much that is wrong with the current defeatism sweeping Europe. Here’s a sentence from the leader still ringing in my ears: “Are those who perpetrated the commuter train bombings to be hunted down and smoked out of their lairs, and if they were, are we confident that we would prevent the next attack, and the one after that?” Notice the sneering contempt with which the editorial writers at the Guardian refer to George Bush’s attempt to hunt down and destroy the terrorists and their allies who have declared war on the West. But notice too the implication: that the perpetrators of these atrocities somehow should *not* be “hunted down and smoked out of their lairs.” Notice the implication that any attempt to defeat terrorism merely fosters more terrorism and so … So what exactly? What is the Guardian’s solution to the thousands murdered in New York and hundreds murdered in Bali and Madrid? What is their solution exactly to the terrifying possibility that such terrorists might also be able to amplify their mass murder by deploying new technologies of destruction that would make 9/11 seem like a side-show? Here’s their solution:
“The victims of the commuter train bombings in Madrid and the Spaniards who came out of the streets last night surely deserve more than party political responses. Europe too needs to mould a different response to its September 11. Spain has a history which places it at the crossroads of the European and Arab worlds. It understands both traditions. It is a country where once Jew, Muslim and Christian lived together. An international conference, to bridge the divide between Muslim and Christian communities, should be one first step. But there are many others. We need to take the fight against terror out of America’s hands. We need to get beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys, and seek a genuinely collective response. Europe should seize the moment that America failed to grasp.”
The stunning aspect of this boilerplate is how utterly empty it is. The only constructive suggestion the Guardian proffers is an “international conference.” No this is not, apparently, self-parody. While hundreds lie dead, while limbs and severed heads lie scattered across railway tracks, the most important thing is to stick on your lapel name-labels, hurry down to the nearest hotel lobby and have a seminar. In sophisticated Europe, according to the Guardian, there are no bad guys, even those who deliberately murdered almost 200 innocents and threaten to murder countless more. Ask yourself: if the Guardian cannot call these people “bad guys,” then who qualifies? And if the leaders of democratic societies who fight back cannot qualify in this context as “good guys,” then who qualifies? What we have here is complete moral nihilism in the face of unspeakable violence.
Then we have the absurd canard that there is a “divide between Muslim and Christian communities.” There is no such divide. There is a divide within Islam between a large majority and a small minority of theocratic, extremist mass-murderers, almost all from failed Arab dictatorships, men and women who have killed Muslim, Christian and Jew alike, young and old, and almost always innocent bystanders in free societies. That small minority has terrorized large populations, enslaved women, murdered Jews and homosexuals, bombed mosques and Muslim shrines, launched a murderous war against Western civilians, taken over whole countries, and targeted individual writers and thinkers for murder. With them we need a dialogue? With them we need a conference? At what point would the leader-writers of the Guardian decide that these murderers need to be fought against?
It will be argued that this is not the point. The Spanish were not protesting the war on terrorism, some insist; they were protesting the war to depose Saddam. And as all right-thinking people acknowledge, there is no connection whatsoever between the war on terror and the war to liberate Iraq. There are a few points to me made with regard to this argument, and the first is that al Qaeda begs to differ. If the war in Iraq is utterly unconnected to the broader war on terror, then why, pray, does al Qaeda want the Spanish government to withdraw its troops? If the war in Iraq is such an irrelevance to the war on terror, why on earth would al Qaeda and the Jihadists be so keen to force Western governments to withdraw? If Iraq is such a distracting quagmire for the West, why wouldn’t it be in the terrorists’ interests to see more troops committed, more resources diverted, more attention distracted from the real war that they are busily fomenting elsewhere?
The truth, of course, is the exact opposite. Nothing threatens al Qaeda or the Islamo-fascist terror network more than the possibility of a constitutional democracy in Iraq. If Iraq succeeds, the entire dysfunction in the Middle East on which al Qaeda relies for its recruitment and growth would be in danger of unraveling. If Iraqis can achieve a semblance of a free and democratic society – with economic growth, political pluralism, and religious freedom – then the al Qaeda model of theocratic fascism will lose whatever appeal it now has in that part of the world. Losing Afghanistan was bad enough for the Jihadists. Seeing Iraq emerge into modernity would be fatal. How long could Syria’s dictatorship last if that occurs? What would happen to Iran, where a young generation desperate for freedom and democracy could finally look over the border and see a Muslim state prosper with real elections and a meaningful constitution? Al Qaeda understands the stakes and that’s why it’s so desperately keen to drive a wedge between Europe and America, intimidate anyone building a new Iraq with violence and murder, and mobilize the young and disaffected among Europe’s Muslim population to unleash terror from within as well.
The emphasis on weakening and dividing the west is also a consequence of a series of serious losses for the jihadists around the world. the iranian theocrats have already lost the younger generation, who look increasingly to the united states and the west for a future that will allow them some semblance of freedom and modernity. That’s why they couldn’t afford even a semblance of free elections earlier this year. Afghanistan, for all its enduring security problems, now has an actual constitution, a slow rebuilding of infrastucture and greater freedoms than ever before in its history. The constant violence in iraq is a sign not of American failure but of American success. Again, a fledgling constitution is in place; the U.N. will shortly be more involved; elections will occur before the end of the year; oil production is back up to pre-war levels and rising fast; U.S. military casualties are now at their lowest since the war began. As the Zarqawi memo showed, the Islamists’ only recourse now is to try and spread mayhem and ethnic conflict to destabilize Iraq – and to get the allies to withdraw.
And in Pakistan, the tide is turning as well. The fierce battle now going on in south Waziristan may or may not capture a major al qaeda leader. But its very existence reveals something important. General Musharraf, after several attempts on his own life and the devastatingly embarrassing revelation of Pakistan’s sale of nuclear know-how to North Korea and Libya, has finally committed himself whole-heartedly to defeating jihadist terror. Behind the scenes, Washington clearly declined to punish Musharraf or publicly repudiate after the nuclear news – but privately asked for full-fledged cooperation to flush out al Qaeda from the Afghan-Pakistani hinterlands. That cooperation is now in full force. It’s a huge victory in the war. On all these fronts, the terrorists are losing. So where do they turn? To the weak under-belly of the west: continental europe. If they cannot win on the battlefield, they have to undermine the enemy from within. And that is exactly what they have just succeeded in doing.
There is a fascinating and perverse historical analogy here. What we may be witnessing is the 1930s in a strange reversal. In the 1930s, the Euro-fascists – like today’s Islamo-fascists – were also a movement of connected cells and organizations across various countries who used terror and street violence and murderous intimidation to weaken democracies into surrender. Eerily enough, Spain was a fore-runner there of dangerous trends to come. Italy was next. And in order to succeed, the movement needed a wedge between the United States and democratic Europe. In an odd reversal, America in the 1930s was isolationist, unwilling to intervene as gathering threats grew in Europe, threats that built on the use of violence, anti-Semitism and thuggery to intimidate weak governments and terrified populations. Today, in a surreal inversion, however, it’s Europe that is isolationist, believing that somehow the cauldron of the Middle East will not boil over into the Europeans’ backyard, if only they can take cover, look the other way, and salve their worries with insistent criticisms of the crude Americans. In Britain, this position is taken not only by the hard left but increasingly by world-weary Tories, like Max Hastings or Simon Jenkins, latter-day Halifaxes who, when they are not busy running from danger, are busy denying it even exists. But of course, one thing is as true today as it was in the 1930s: it is Europe that is most at risk. It is Europe that is closest to the explosive Middle East that is growing demographically as rapidly as Europe is declining. It is Europe that has a Muslim population most receptive to the toxins of anti-Semitism and medieval theocracy that sustain the new fascists. It is Europe that is most vulnerable to terror because it is geographically far more accessible across borders and national frontiers. And yet it is Europe that is most set on pretending it isn’t at risk.
Or worse: pretending that the risks Europe now confronts are somehow the fault of the United States. It should be conceded immediately that the United States has been neither perfect in its conduct of the war nor innocent in its long history of engagement with the Middle East. Looking back with the advantage of hindsight, you could well argue that the U.S. committed too few troops to Afghanistan, misjudged the nuclear shenanigans in Pakistan, woefully under-estimated the security needs in post-war Iraq, and failed to mount as aggressive a diplomatic offensive in the months before the Iraq war as was necessary. It would also be hard to find characters more likely to rub Europeans up the wrong way than George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. So let’s concede all that. Let’s concede also that almost every Western government misread the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The deeper point is still this: even if you concede all this, the Islamist war against the West was not created by these mistakes. It existed and grew in strength and potency throughout the 1990s. it draws its roots from the Egyptian Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s. It is quite candid in its goals: expulsion of all infidels from Islamic lands, the subjugation of political pluralism to fascistic theocracy, the elimination of all Jews anywhere, the enslavement of women, the murder of homosexuals, and the expansion of a new Islamic realm up to and beyond the medieval boundaries of Islam’s golden past. Bin Laden spoke of reclaiming Andalusia in Spain long before George W. Bush was even president. He was building terror camps and seeking weapons of mass destruction while Bill Clinton was in the White House. Blaming the policeman for exposing and punishing the criminal may feel good temporarily. But it is a fool’s errand.
And the result of the counter-attack by the West – for all its mistakes – is a real, if still fragile, advance in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m sorry, Mr Zapatero, but the liberation of millions from two of the most brutal police states in history is not now and never could be described as “a disaster.” Even to utter that sentiment is to have lost even the faintest sense of moral bearings. And it is in absolutely no-one’s interest either in Europe or America to see those two devastated countries implode or their fledgling democracies fail. Withdrawal from either place now would be catastrophic not just for those countries but for the momentum and power it would give those forces that now seek to destroy the West and any semblance of freedom in the Middle East. For Americans and Europeans to bicker among themselves about the past when their shared and mutual future hangs in the balance is close to suicidal.
We are in danger of missing the most important fact in front of us. It’s a fact that, to his credit, Tony Blair has long grasped and still refuses to abandon. That fact is that we are at war. Local terrorism by itself, rooted in territorial or ethnic grievances, might be perceived as something less than a war. But global terrorism, fueled by a unifying Islamist ideology, and potentially armed with weapons more powerful than anything used by terrorists before, is a far more formidable foe. Appeasing this force will strengthen it; blaming allies because they have dared to confront it is simply to play into the hands of the enemy. To say so is not McCarthyite, as some have claimed. In free societies, free people should be able to differ about this with no consequences at all, just as the electorate in Spain should be perfectly free to exercise its democratic choice. That freedom of thought and discussion is what we are defending, after all. But that does not mean that that choice to appease or avoid is not a disastrous and potentially fatal one. What happened last week in Spain was easily the gravest event since al Qaeda struck the streets of New York. It’s a portent of catastrophe for Europe. And only Europe, in the last resort, will be able to reverse it.