Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Spain’s general election gave victory to the opposition Socialists, a result which would’ve been considered a long shot a week ago. The center-right prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, piqued the ire of Spaniards by supporting the Iraq invasion even though 90% of the country was opposed (and even though his decision totally bypassed parliament). However, this did not seem to be the decisive factor since this was the case well before the election and the ruling Popular Party (PP) long had a comfortable lead in the opinion polls.

Instead, analysts generally attribute the surprise to the ruling government’s perceived mishandling of the aftermath of the Madrid massacre. The government instantly blamed the Basque separatist group ETA and seriously downplayed the possibility that it might be related to al-Qaeda. The logic behind this was simple. If it were ETA, it would anger Spaniards and strengthen the PP’s hard-line policy against Basque nationalism. If it were al-Qaeda, then Spaniards would feel that they were targeted because of the prime minister’s unpopular decision to support the American invasion of Iraq. It’s obvious which position the PP had an interest in advancing.

But when al-Qaeda claimed credit for the massacre and arrested several Moroccans in connection with the attacks, people got pissed off. It was likely this anger that proved the decisive factor. The PP had about a 4% lead in the polls before the bombings, but ended up losing the election by approximately the same amount.

The government is perceived to have tried to manipulate the tragedy to their political advantage, or at least to avoid it being to their detriment. And they were caught and punished for it.

Now, Spain’s prime minister-elect has said that Spanish troops will withdraw from Iraq unless the US leaves by 30 June.

This whole situation has brought predictable howls of outrage from the new Terrorist Warriors (heirs apparent to the old Cold Warriors). They claim all this sends a horrible message, that al-Qaeda can do a bombing and cause a change of government. They claim that al-Qaeda will think the bombing caused Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq.

This conveniently ignores the fact that the Socialists were calling for such a withdrawal long before the Madrid massacre. Before, critics called this “misguided” (a fair expression of a differing opinion). Now, it’s “terrorist appeasement,” which is a somewhat nastier pandering to macho emotion over cool-headed analysis.

The other, equally serious, implication is that any change of government by the Spaniards would be seen as a victory for al-Qaeda. This suggests that democracies aren’t allowed to change governments during a war without “sending the wrong message” to the enemy. What garbage! American voters changed the party of the president five times during the Cold War.

The main issue that cost the Popular Party was not the bombing, contrary to the Terrorist Warriors would self-servingly have you believe. The main issue was the PP’s REACTION to the bombing. Richard Nixon learned that the cover-up is often viewed worse than the crime. Jose Maria Aznar was sent the same message.

The perceived cover-up and manipulation was perpetrated by the PP. Why should Spaniards be condemned for holding their government accountable?

Oh the horror!

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