March 17, 2004,
ROME, ITALY There are two competing explanations for the Spanish vote on Sunday: Either the Spaniards were intimidated by the terrorists, or they punished Aznar for trying to trick them into thinking it was the Basques, when he had strong evidence that the jihadists were involved. I rather think it was the latter it would be hard for me to think of Spaniards as easily intimidated but whichever is correct, the political consequences are the same. The terror masters believe that they have successfully toppled a Western government by the use of force, and that will encourage them to do more of it.
We will no doubt learn a lot more about the specific components of the terror network that operated in Spain, but one important element in the story has been universally ignored in the Western press to date. Judge Balthazar Garzon, who has been a tower of strength in Spain's antiterrorist campaign (against jihadists and ETA as well) publicly announced several weeks ago that the evidence unmistakably pointed to the fact that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Iran. The mullahs do not take kindly to this sort of exposure, and if, as is quite likely, they were involved in the network that struck Madrid, this would have been an additional motive, and an additional reason for satisfaction at the results.
As for incoming prime minister Zapatero, the new hero of the European and American Left, his original proclamations retreat from Iraq and willingness to sign the draft of the European constitution have been both feckless and foolish. Feckless because he would have been in an excellent position to obtain considerable favors and concessions from Bush if he had said "let's talk, and see if there is an acceptable compromise," while now he is so firmly committed to his position of total appeasement that it is very difficult for him to back off. And foolish, because Aznar had held out against enormous Franco-German pressure to sign a constitution that would give Spain a position weaker than their current standing in the European Union. If Aznar had ever decided to accept the document, he could have exacted a considerable price for it, but Zapatero has sold out for an empty bowl. He will have to beg for his porridge.
Less than one might have expected from a law professor. But perhaps his quasi-official nickname, "Bambi," is psychologically as well as physically accurate.
So the previously sound "new Europe" has been deprived of its strongest pillar, and undoubtedly the other two principal supporters of the war against terror, Italy and Poland, are imminent targets. If the terrorists are as cabalistic as it seems (the eerie fact that March 11 arrived exactly 911 days after 9/11 has been noted, and should be underlined), then one possible target date is 6/11 six being an inverted nine which comes a couple of days before the Italian vote for the European parliament. Probably a good day to visit Baghdad.
It is not easy to judge the mood in Washington from this distance, but many of the public statements from our leaders are a bit disconcerting. Like the Europeans, the administration, Congress, and the media are narrowly focused on the consequences for our efforts in Iraq. But Iraq is only one battlefield in a larger war, and we cannot solve Iraq without bringing down the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran, without bringing freedom to Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The peoples of those countries know it and show that they know it. In the past few days there have been enormous demonstrations against the tyrants in Syria and Iran. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, demanding freedom. (And do not listen to the sly journalists who tell you, accurately so far as it goes, that these demonstrations grew out of unrest in a soccer stadium in Syria, or from frustration at being prevented from celebrating the traditional Iranian New Year, Norooz; that only tells you about the spark, but the enormity of the inflammable material is the important thing. Mere soccer hooligans don't demand the political transformation of the country.)
This administration has been carrying on for some time now about the importance of democratizing the Middle East. It follows ineluctably that we should be supporting these freedom fighters in the streets of our worst, and most totalitarian enemies in the region. But instead, the State Department sends diplomats to calm the situation in Syria, and our diplomats cluck their tongues about the unpleasantness in Iran.
About which there are two things that need to be said. First, we are indeed at war, but this president does not have a war cabinet. This kind of behavior is business as usual for Foggy Bottom; it is not what we need to destroy our enemies. Second, Secretary of State Powell by now owes the Iranian people profound apologies for the many times he has failed to vigorously support them, and proclaim regime change in Tehran to be our heart's desire. This policy is more urgent than ever, given the events in Madrid. It should be our policy even if there were no war against terror, simply because the mission of America is to support freedom whenever we can. We are not there yet, not by a long shot.
And so we drift on, led by a president with uniquely good instincts and rare courage, but who seems not to understand that many of his people are weakening the strength of his message and even, on occasion, acting in a direction counter to what he has long said was our national mission.
The terrorists will now be encouraged to strike whenever and wherever they can. We cannot possibly defend all their possible targets. This war cannot be won by playing defense, which is a chump's game. We have once again been offered a glorious opportunity to take the offensive, by supporting all those brave Syrians and Iranians who are crying out for freedom. Will we betray them again? Only the president can insist on supporting them, because it is clear that the others will not.
If we do not, the wheel will turn once again. The terrorists will strike, we will debate, and it will all become ever more difficult and costly. Meanwhile, innocents die and hopes dwindle, and our enemies march on, convinced that the West does not have the will to resist.
As I wrote when Baghdad fell and most believed that a glorious victory was at hand, we can still lose this thing.