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Did Terrorists Win in Spain?
Progressive Populist
by Nathan Newman
April 15, 2004

A murderous terrorist assault rocks Spain. A conservative government that supported the US invasion of Iraq is ousted by Spanish voters.

The new prime minister vows to end its troop deployment in Iraq.

And the US rightwing declares that the Spanish are appeasers of terrorism and that al Qaeda has won a victory.

Ignore the Rightwing Talking Points: Put aside the fact that the Spanish people were voting less in response to fears of al Qaeda than to outrage at their conservative government's manipulation of information around the terrorist attack.

Even if they were voting to pull out of Iraq because of fears of more terrorist attacks, so what? The opposition had warned that going to war with Iraq could lead to terrorist attacks against Spain, while the conservative government argued it would make the Spanish people safer. The opposition was right, the government was wrong. What is wrong with an election rewarding the political side that was right in predicting the likely outcome of occupying Iraq?

Or does the rightwing argue that we must oppose everything al Qaeda supports, regardless of the merits or the issue? That's a recipe for a macho cycle of deliberately promoting global hatred against the West just to spite al Qaeda.

Why the Iraq War Increased Terrorism: The progressive critique of the Iraq War was relatively straightforward:

Al Qaeda is an opportunistic operation. They take advantage of real grievances among muslim countries in order to promote their own narrow radical visions. They seize on the Palestinian oppression, poverty, and US-backed wars to recruit alienated young men (and some women) to give up their lives in terrorist attacks.

Creating a new grievance in the form of an illegal war in Iraq will just help al Qaeda recruit a new group of adherents.

Now, this does not mean al Qaeda liked Saddam Hussein's regime. In fact, they hated him and had denounced him repeatedly over the years, since his Arab nationalism was a direct ideological competitor with their vision of an Islamic theocracy. But despite hating him, they can opportunistically take advantage of his ouster to pose as the defender of Arab nationalism against US interventionism.

Iraq and al Qaeda were not linked, until the US linked them. Having linked them through invasion, al Qaeda could take advantage of the perception of the link to stoke anger and recruit new adherents from those opposed to the invasion.

And the bombing in Spain was one result, a result predicted by the opposition.

Spain voting to elect leaders vowing to pull out of Iraq is not "letting the terrorists win" but punishing a government who lied to their people and misled them in the idea that attacking Iraq was a useful way to fight terrorism.

Getting out of Iraq is not doing what the terrorists want, since having a presence there just inflames anger throughout the Muslim world and serves al Qaeda.

Bush Did What Bin Laden Wanted: Al Qaeda wanted the US to launch its global violence in Islamic countries, all the better to recruit new jihadists. That was the ultimate purpose of the attack on the World Trade Center, to provoke a stupid response that they knew would inflame anger in the rest of the world.

The Bush administration has given Bin Laden what he wanted by going into Iraq. So at this point, it is ridiculous to base our votes on "what al Qaeda wants" rather than deciding what is the best way to end the terror.

Let's face it -- terrorism is designed to put its targets in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. If you ignore their demands, especially when those demands reflect broader global social grievances, you just help them recruit new supporters. If you give into the demands, you look weak and might encourage more attacks seeking similar concessions.

So screw the opportunistic response to any particular set of terrorist attacks.

Do What Makes Sense: If getting out of Iraq was a good idea for Spain before the attacks, they are a good idea after the attacks. And while I'm not for the US abandoning Iraq without a decent attempt to prevent full-scale internal slaughter in our exit's wake, I think Spain and other countries removing cover for our unililateralism is the best way to pressure Bush to create a real international administration of the country.

Al Qaeda won the minute Bush decided to match violence with violence. Since then, global support for the terrorists has risen and support for the US has plummeted.

So in cleaning up after Bush's dance to Bin Laden's tune, we need some hard-headed decisions that ignore opportunistic responses to terrorism but address the fundamentals.

By the way, Islamic terrorists in Palestine have been trying to derail peace talks through terrorism in Israel. Sharon just cancelled peace talks in response to terrorist attacks.

So does that mean the terrorists have won, since Sharon is doing what they wanted?

Probably, but somehow I suspect that those condemning Spain now are applauding Sharon.

Instead of trying to read the minds of what the terrorists want or whether they have "won," let's abandon diversionary adventures like Iraq, concentrate on catching actual terrorists, and let's address the real global grievances, so that al Qaeda doesn't have a base to recruit new angry recruits.

The best way to end terrorism is to rebuild global support for the US, not continue to stoke anger at our country. The Spanish voters have recognized the correctness of that approach. US voters should join them in November in ejecting our government's wrongheaded leadership.

Nathan Newman is a labor lawyer and community activist. Email or see

Posted by Nathan at April 15, 2004 09:23 PM