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Revisiting: The Fire Last Time.


In Britain on the Bloody Seventh, I wrote the following:

Perhaps the villains’ expectation is that the Briton will quail as the Spaniards, reacting to massacre with headlong flight from foreign fields. I think not.

I should have expected the reaction to follow: outrage and indignation at the slur on Spain, the Spanish, and their suffering on 3/11. Slurs, though, tend to be untrue or badly out of context. In this case, the characterization of Spain and the Spanish was sadly apt.

Since defense of the Spanish retreat in the face of terror has become such an article of faith on the American Left, it is worth revisiting the episode to set the historical record straight.
The mythos of the American Left with regard to Spain and Iraq goes like this: Prime Minister Aznar and his conservatives embroiled Spain in an American war that was deeply unpopular and was utterly unrelated to the “real” war on terror. During the immediate aftermath of the 3/11 bombings, Aznar misled the Spanish public by insisting, for political purposes, that the Basque terror group ETA was responsible. The Spanish public reacted to this dishonesty by electing Zapatero and his Socialists. The electoral outcome therefore had nothing to do with any fearfulness of further terror; nor did it have anything to do with Iraq; and Spain has been a faithful partner in the “real” war on terror — which is to say, Afghanistan — ever since.
The only truthful statements in the above paragraph concern the unpopularity in Spain of the Iraq war and the misleading blame of the ETA for 3/11. On the former, we know that it was not an issue expected to defeat the Spanish Right; on the latter, Aznar unquestionably acted with some measure of propagandizing dishonesty. Let that much be said. And then let us speak the remaining truth.
The truth is that long before 3/11, the Spanish Socialists were already convinced that they were a target for Islamist terrorists by dint of the Iraq wa. The Atocha bombings only confirmed for them the source and nature of their peril. See, for example, the argument advanced by Socialist parliamentary candidate Miguel Angel Moratinos, the European Union’s former special representative in the Middle East, on Spanish television in February 2004:

“We’ve gotten nothing [from our involvement in Iraq.] On the contrary. Spain is now a priority target of the Islamic fundamentalists.”

Having gained what they perceived as validation of their view in the blood and gore at the Atocha station, Zapatero’s victorious Socialists moved hastily toward the retreat. Even as apologists on the American left were concocting excuses for the promised flight from Iraq, Zapatero was intent on making fools of them all by abandoning his campaign promise of a June 30 deadline for a new political arrangement for the Spanish deployment in favor of unconditional immediate withdrawal. What was originally presented as a reasonable, if unrealistic, demand for more palatable terms of engagement changed post-3/11 into nothing less than a headlong withdrawal without possibility of mitigation. (Even John Kerry, then in full campaign mode and hardly apt to pass up a shot at the Administration, recoiled from the Spanish turnabout.)
The Spanish retreat — conducted, it must be remembered, in a manner as to literally abandon comrades-in-arms under Spanish command in the heat of battle — was masked with pious rhetoric from its architect: “Terrorists have to know that (in Spain) there is going to be a government that is inflexible with terrorism and that wherever they are, they will be hunted down. This has been my policy since I was leader of the opposition.” Afghanistan, it was suggested, would be where Spain would make its brave stand against terrorism.
Brave indeed: having pulled c.1,300 soldiers out of Iraq, Spain sent 1,040 to Afghanistan six months later. For ninety days. The present Spanish commitment in Afghanistan? An anemic 540-man construction battalion in Herat, far from the significant areas of decision in that long-simmering war. But at the very least, more election-time security is on the way. It is, indeed, the very least.
We’ve established well enough that the Zapatero government seized upon 3/11 to abandon their stated plans for possible withdrawal in favor of a self-imposed rout; and we’ve shown that the stated evidence of continued Spanish commitment to the broader anti-terror war is underwhelming in the extreme. So much for the cravenness and duplicity of Madrid’s Socialists. What about the people of Spain? Were they indeed purely intent, as the Left’s mythos would have it, on punishing Aznar, et al., for public dishonesty? Or were they scared and terrorized into believing that their involvement in Iraq had brought the jihad upon themselves?
It is pathetically simple to find evidence for the latter. Spanish troops in Iraq — soldiers on the battlefield — certainly believed that their presence endangered their nation:

“I think we should go,” [said Private Francisco]. “It’s clear that they’re going to do something worse in Spain if we stay here….”
“They”, of course, is al-Qa’ida.

Much of the Spanish electorate felt the same:

“This is all the fault of the United States; they got us into this,” said Santiago Ruíz, a 55-year-old electrician who lives in suburban Leganés, a block from where the four suspects killed themselves and a police officer on Saturday. “….Spain is paying the consequences of its solidarity with the United States.”
In the city center, Alejandro Rodríguez, 36, agreed: “We should withdraw from Iraq right now. Why wait until June? Do we want to wait for more attacks?

Even at the Madrid memorial for the 3/11 victims, this point of view found expression:

[Many Spanish] have never identified the war in Iraq as fighting terrorism….Some go further, arguing that their involuntary participation in the campaign made their country a target of international terrorists.
In an emotional testimony of this view the mother of one of the victims of the recent bombings addressed the outgoing prime minister personally, when he entered the cathedral ahead of today’s funeral service.
“Senor Aznar, I hold you responsible for the death of my son,” the woman cried clearly audibly across the Cathedral.

The government and electorate of Spain might be forgiven if there was an element of truth to its cringing worldview. There is not: The terrorists planned post-3/11 attacks in Spain long after they were supposedly given what they wanted. This is not to say that they did not want Spain’s withdrawal from Iraq — indeed, we knew quite swiftly after 3/11 that the Socialist reaction to the attacks were part of a long-foreseen and hoped-for chain of events by al Qaeda:

The day of the [Madrid] bombings, analysts at the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, a Norwegian think tank near Oslo, retrieved a document that they had noticed on an Islamist Web site the previous December….Titled “Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers,” it had been prepared by a previously unknown entity called the Media Committee for the Victory of the Iraqi People (Mujahideen Services Center)….
[The document stated:] “It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming general election in Spain in March next year. We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral program.”

It is pointless to speculate how many innocents will be killed — or were killed in London — because Zapatero rewarded the terrorists in precisely the manner that they hoped. It is enough to note that they will be. And it is enough to call this entire episode what it manifestly is: Detestable cowardice.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 3:37 PM | Permalink

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