Hartford Courant (CT), March 16, 2004
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services, Mar. 15, 2004
Grand Forks Herald (ND), Mar. 17, 2004
Biloxi Sun Herald (MS), Mar. 17, 2004
Bismarck Tribune (ND), Mar. 17, 2004
It was a vote heard round the world. European newspapers described it as a “political earthquake.” Spain’s conservative Popular Party, headed by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, was defeated in an election on Sunday that was clearly determined by public opposition to Spain’s participation in the Iraq war.
The Bush administration has now lost one of its most outspoken and prominent allies in the occupation of Iraq, second only to Britain’s Tony Blair. But what is most remarkable about the election is that it happened just three days after Spain fell victim to the deadliest terrorist attack on the European mainland since World War II.
At least 200 people were killed and over 1500 wounded in the bombings of rush-hour trains in Madrid. Evidence so far points to people associated with Al Qaeda as responsible.
But instead of rallying around the ruling party in the wake of this horrific attack — as often happens — millions blamed the government for involving Spain in a war that 90 percent of the Spanish people had opposed. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday with angry messages such as “Your War, Our Dead.”
Their anger prevailed, fueled also by suspicions that the government — which initially blamed the Basque separatist group ETA for the bombings — was trying to withhold information about the perpetrators. The ruling party — which was ahead in the polls just a few days earlier — knew that if Al-Qaeda were seen to be responsible, it would cost them votes.
“On June 30 I will give the order for [Spanish troops] to return home,” said Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, the leader of the winning Socialist Party, on Thursday. This pledge proved decisive to a majority of voters, who turned out in very large numbers.
It is hard to imagine such a scenario in the United States, where our governing party was able to take both houses of Congress in 2002, partly by beating the drums of war and diverting attention from all the other issues on which it was vulnerable. President Bush has skillfully used the tragedy of September 11, not only to launch the war in Iraq — which had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda or terrorism — but for issues seemingly even less related, such as tax cuts for the wealthy and “fast-track” authority for trade negotiations.
But a majority of Americans now think that the war was not worth it, according to recent polls. Millions are also aware that terrorism directed against Americans is overwhelmingly a result of our foreign policy, and not the other way around. For Spanish voters, the solution was clear: stop participating in the conquest and occupation of other nations.
Americans will eventually come to the same conclusion, but when? In the first weeks after September 11, 2001, there were some who began to ask — like children who do not know that such questions are inappropriate — “Why do they hate us?” But this line of inquiry was quickly dropped. Soon the “war against terrorism” had become the replacement for the all-encompassing “war against Communism” that had served as pretext for all the terrible things (invasions, military coups, massacres, dictators) that our government supported throughout most of the post-World-War II era.
Many pundits and editorial writers here will lament about “Spain giving in to terrorism,” and how Spain’s election will only “encourage terrorism.” On Sunday our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld criticized the Spanish opposition: “It’s like feeding an alligator, hoping it eats you last. And it’s not a terribly proud posture, in my view.”
He couldn’t be more wrong. A more appropriate metaphor would have Mr. Rumsfeld kicking and stomping on an alligator, which would otherwise not have become a threat.
The Spanish people should indeed be proud that in the face of a heart-wrenching national tragedy, while still mourning their dead and caring for their wounded, they refused to be manipulated. With courage and rationality, they decided that it was not enough to fight such barbarity through increased security or law enforcement, while allowing their government to continue provoking it. They decided to do something about the cause of the terrorism.
It will be a great day for the United States — and the world — when we do the same.