War etc

‘Cowards’

Tim Blair has a round-up of reactionary, unpleasant, mostly American, blog responses to the Spanish election results. Chris Brooke does the same for the British right-wingers.

The comment of undisputed number one US blogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit is fairly typical of the stuff swirling around the American blogosphere: Terrorists have succeeded in toppling the Spanish government … The Spanish electorate has made a very shortsighted and cowardly decision, and the world may suffer as a result.

It hardly needs to be pointed out how offensive and patronising such views are, coming just days after over ten million Spaniards took to the streets in those moving silent protests against terrorist attacks which killed 200 of their compatriots.

That was the response of a people who have a real memory of civil war and who know exactly what the difference between tyranny and democracy is.

Fear understandably takes hold after terrorist attacks as everyone wonders what will happen next. Will they bomb your train? Will they blow up cars in your streets? In that mood the Spaniards went on their streets in their millions. It was an astonishing response and shame on those that forget it so quickly.

And now, because they decided to vote for a social-democratic party, no doubt for many reasons and not only because of Iraq or the Madrid bombings, they are labelled “cowards”.

It should be enough of a response to those who insult the Spanish to remind them that the demonstrations in Spain were an unprecedented response to an Al-Qaeda attack.

But, as they say, let’s not go there. What has upset these people is that the population of a country that the US considers an ally in the war in Iraq has voted out a Bush-allied government and replaced it with a party which promised to bring home the troops.

They feel a sense of betrayal because they never bothered to check that while some European governments were allies of the US over Iraq their populations never were. Not in Spain. Not in Italy and not in much of ‘New Europe’ either.

It is utterly niave if supporters of the war believed there would not be a political price to pay for invading Iraq against the will of the majority of the people – however just we believe the action was. The American and British governments failed to win the argument over Iraq with the European citizenry and they would do well to consider some of the reasons why. Tony Blair’s speech in Sedgefield might be considered the start of that process.

Strangely most of those yelling ‘cowards’ at the Spanish people, seem to be worried about the “message this will send to the terrorists”.

I say strangely because as I said earlier in the comments boxes I find little logic in this thinking. Even if we accept the flawed view that the Spanish election was entirely about Iraq and terrorism do these people really think that if the Spaniards had voted for Aznar and demanded their troops stay in Iraq that would deter Bin Laden from his future plans?

As Oliver Kamm rightly says: The worldview of an apocalyptic nihilist pursuing the destruction of western civilisation shows no evidence of being swayed by calculations of electoral outcomes. It would be surprising if it did. Al-Qaeda and its offshoots do not urge a different set of policies on western leaders and do not issue a set of negotiable demands.

Another argument put forward is a more practical one – that the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq in June will weaken the fight against the ‘resistance’. With all due respect to Spanish soilders that view is an insult to the American military who will surely replace them if needed.

The major problem with all of this, is that the rhetoric and I fear the analysis being used by many conservatives and others in relation to terrorism is still trapped in the era when the IRA, ETA and the more secular earlier version of the PLO were the main terrorist groups. In those times, ‘messages’ were important because there was a prospect of some sort of influence over the groups and there was rarely mentioned but always present negotations taking place.

If we don’t believe there is any point in negotiating with Al-Qaeda – which there isn’t – then why should we worry about ‘messages’? They will kill until they are defeated.

What we don’t want to see is the terrorists dictating to us what choices we should make in our democracies. At the end of the day, for all the bull and bluster, all the tough words and grand statements, it is intelligence, arrests and where necessary kills that count in the fight against terrorism not ‘sending messages’.

Another of the old cliches about previous, pre-Bin Laden terrorism, one that was more often aired on the liberal left, was that there was “no military solution” to these conflicts with the assumption that in the end a political deal will have to be struck with those involved in armed struggle.

In this new situation precisely the opposite is the case. There is no political solution – only vigilance, determination, good intelligence and the barrel of a gun can defeat Al-Qaeda.

The politics, the messages, should be focused on draining the sea in which the terrorists swim, on helping build successful democracies where there are no hiding places for killers.

There is not a single government in Europe that does not take the terrorist threat seriously and the disagreements over the invasion of Iraq do not alter that fact. The first statement of the new Spanish Prime Minister was to reaffirm his country’s determination in the face of terrorism.

Apart from the cranks of the extreme left and extreme right there actually already is a broad consensus on the need for a determined struggle against the Islamofascist threat.

The only danger to that alliance is to over-dramatise differences within the democratic camp, hurling around phrases like ‘cowards’ and sinister claims that a vote for the left is a vote for Bin Laden.

It is precisely such an ignorant approach that will add undeserved credibility to those who foolishly see George Bush or America itself as the real enemy and not the fundamentalist terrorists.

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