The Spanish held their elections this weekend, sweeping out the old conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, one of President Bush’s staunchest supporters of regime change in Iraq. The incumbent, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, leader of the left-leaning Spanish Socialist Workers Party has stated that “the military intervention [in Iraq] was a political error for the international order”, and pledged that Spanish troops will be pulled out of Iraq by 30 June.
The election followed in the wake of the worst terrorist attack ever on Spanish soil; 200 were killed with another 1500 injured. Although initial suspicion was that the Basque separatist group ETA was behind the attack, new evidence (and repeated ETA denials of culpability) points to an al-Qaida connection.
Prior to the attack, the conservatives, who lost 43 to 38 with 77% of eligible voters voting, enjoyed a 5 point lead. The reason for the turn-around? Public perception that the attack was a direct result of Spanish involvement in Iraq, which the public does not support.
This being the case, what does the future portend in terms of al-Qaida and the global war on terror?
Spain is not the only country where involvement in Iraq is unpopular at home. Most of the nations that have pledged support have a large number of citizens who were against involvement in the first place and favor withdrawal. Such sentiment is not unknown right here in the United States.
The fact is, that al-Qaida won this one. Spain, under the government of Prime Minister Aznar, was a major supporter of the GWOT and US action in Iraq. While the incumbent, Mr. Zapatero says his most immediate priority will be to fight terrorism, that does not include supporting the US action in Iraq, which, like many others, he sees as a totally separate issue of aggression by the United States. The result, a pull-out of Spanish forces in Iraq, is a victory for al-Qaida. It remains to be seen if others will follow suit.
The most logical follow-up to this success would be for al-Qaida to repeat their attack in Spain, targeting other countries where there is a large amount of popular sentiment against their country’s support for Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy. Particularly susceptible would be countries that will be having elections soon, or those like Great Britain with parliamentary systems where a vote of no confidence can be taken at any time without waiting for the regular election cycle.
Great Britain would make a particularly good target in fact. Prime Minister Tony Blair is a staunch supporter of Mr. Bush. There are a large number (relatively speaking) of British troops in Iraq, and there is a large number of people in the United Kingdom who are very much against their presence there. A successful attack against Britain, with large numbers of casualties as in Spain, could cause the fall of Mr. Blair’s government, and a reversal of British policy concerning Iraq. This would be a serious blow to the Bush administration, piling fuel on the fire of those adamantly opposed to Bush’s intervention in Iraq. And we are in an election year as well…
Would al-Qaida strike here again, hoping for a reaction similar to that achieved in Spain? And if they did, what would the reaction be?
They might. Certainly there is no guarantee we could stop them. We might foil an attempt or two, but if they try multiple targets it is unlikely we would get them all. It’s a big country, and we can’t guard everything. We don’t even try.
All one has to do is look at the number of illegal aliens that slip across our southern border with Mexico each year to understand that. And contrary to popular belief, all of them are not Hispanic. A growing number (around 20-30%) are from the Middle East.
If a large scale attack, say like the one perpetrated in Spain, were to occur here in the US, what would be the reaction? Would we rise up in anger like we did after 911? Or would we react like they did in Spain, and blame it on the policies of Mr. Bush in Iraq?
I suspect the latter. I think that Mr. Kerry would find it irresistible to blame such an attack on Mr. Bush’s “failure” to prosecute the war on terror by getting sidetracked with his “persona vendetta” against Saddam Hussain. (He did try to “kill his daddy”, after all). I can imagine him blaming all the deaths on Mr. Bush personally, and vowing to bring the troops home if elected.
It could work. At the least it would put the stock market and probably the economy into a tailspin, which would be bad for Bush in a tight election.
I hope I am wrong. However, one thing is certain. The reaction of the voters in Spain has just guaranteed that the world has become a more dangerous place.