Monday, March 15, 2004

Terror drives Spain from the coalition - what are the implications? 

Anybody reading this blog knows now that the Socialists have driven Aznar's Popular Party from power in Spain, and that today they reiterated their campaign pledge to pull Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30. What does this mean for the United States? Since there is so much discussion of the issue around the blogosphere (see Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, Volokh and Little Green Footballs for starters, links to the right), I will confine my remarks to two observations.

First, Volokh makes the useful point that if terrorists can, in fact, put electoral pressure on hawkish democratic governments or even swing election results against them, our allies understandably become less dependable. This would appear to undermine the case for broad multilateral action, as opposed to the alliances of convenience favored by the Bush Administration. Here's the key passage, but read the whole thing:

Those voters' position would be understandable -- perhaps not terribly sound in the long term, but understandable: The deaths were caused by Aznar's policies, since if he had not supported the Americans (over the opposition of most Spaniards, as I understand), the bombings probably wouldn't have happened; therefore, let's punish Aznar, and send politicians a message to prevent this from happening again.

But if that's so, then doesn't it show that we can't allow our foreign policy to be vetoed by other nations? After all, if we agree that we may not do what we think is right and necessary for our national security if any one of England, France, Russia, or China says "veto," then our enemies can paralyze us simply by influencing one foreign country. The influence might be exerted by bribes, or by threat of terrorist violence. But one way or another, an enemy that couldn't break down our resolve could still stop us from doing what needs to be done by breaking down the resolve of one of the veto-owning countries. (The same applies if we just generally agree not to go ahead without the agreement of "our European allies" generally -- if the threat of terrorist retaliation cows several of those allies, that could be enough to stymie our plans.)

Second, whether Al-Qaeda or ETA is responsible for the Madrid bombings (and I'm betting with Al-Qaeda), Al-Qaeda has learned that a bloody attack on civilians on the eve of an election can change the results of that election. Since we know that Osama Bin Laden is one of the "foreign leaders" that desperately wants Bush out of office (we trust that John Kerry has not actually spoken to him), we can bet that Al-Qaeda will do its utmost to influence the American Presidential election. Indeed, can one imagine a grander feather in its cap, other than detonating a nuclear warhead in a city packed with infidels?

Suppose a Madrid scale attack on Halloween this year. How will the American electorate react? Will swing voters run from Bush on the theory that he has not done enough to secure the country against Islamist terror? Or will Americans punish Al-Qaeda for trying to influence our elections by deciding for Bush? If the first result were more likely before Madrid, is it now possible that the experience of the Spanish atrocity -- by which I mean both the bombing and the electoral consequence of the bombing -- will innoculate America against the same result in November?

I wish I knew the answers.


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