Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Thoughts on Spain and terrorism

This started out as an addition to the comments thread of the previous post. It was too long for my comments system so I turned it into a post.

The thing that has worried me the most over the last year is that there would be a major terrorist attack in Europe, that large swathes of the population would conclude that the attack had been provoked by the war on terrorism, and that the response would be for Europe to feel the blow and then cower in its shell and essentially let the Islamicists win. (What do you do then? Allow them to have as many cells in your country as they like?) This seems to have happened in Spain over the last week. (And Romano Prodi's remark that "It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists" is one of the most appalling things I have ever heard). However, the whole ETA or not business really did muddle things. I think certainly the Aznar government lost at least some votes because it was seen as trying to spin the terrorist incident in a direction that was to its advantage rather than to seek the truth. (I don't think this accusation is especially fair - there may have been a little denial, but I don't think there was any genuine attempt to hide anything. The PP did announce that Morroccans had been arrested - it was not a leak. And it did this before the election).

(Interesting though that implicit in this interpretation is the clear message that dealing with ETA with force was right, but dealing with Al Qaeda was wrong).

However, certainly a fair bit of the political shift was exactly the "surrender to bin Laden and perhaps he won't hurt us any more" response that a log of the blogosphere has declared it to be. And Al Qaeda will read it as such. And I find it hard to imagine they will not try something similar later in the year. Their attacks since September 11 have been on places with key grievances in Muslim history (Indonesia, Turkey, Spain, Israel, as well as places actually in the Muslim world). Australia would be peripheral to that, but it does have an election in the second half of the year (or conceivably early 2005, but most likely late this year) that could be targeted in the same way. And of course there is the American election. Thankfully, it is unimaginable that America would respond to a terrorist attack in the same way that Spain has. America is arguing more about how real the threat is than the wisdom of responding to terrorism with force. If the threat was shown to be real in this way, America would respond by re-electing President Bush and giving him increased resources to resume the war. And we may be thankful for this. As for Australia, I do not know where it stands. However ghastly the Australian left is, the country would not be as limp wristed as Spain. Australians know they are on the edge of an unstable region of the world and are surrounded by Muslims, and they have recently been expanding their military and attampting to minimise the danger in failed states nearby. (That's what the peacekeeping troops in the Solomon Islands are about). I think there is a very real chance that Australia would respond to the terrorist threat by re-electing its present government and relatively little changing. The left would scream a lot, but in Australia it doesn't represent as large a portion of the population as it thinks it does, which is why Australia elects fundamentally conservative governments most of the time. The situation is similar to that in the US I think. If the election is fought on domestic issues, the incumbent will probably lose. But if it is fought on foreign policy, it will win.

And as to what would happen in Britain if an attack occurred here, I do not know. (There are lots of people in middle England whose response would be to fight, but I doubt that the ruling class in the Labour party (Blair excepted) is amongst them. But horribly, I think we may find out).

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