Yet more on Spain and al Qaeda

Yet more on the idea that the Spanish elections are an al Qaeda victory. As I mentioned last night, I worry that the results of the Spanish elections, in which the PP was thrown out and the PSOE were voted in in response to last week’s bombings, will be seen as a victory for Islamists such as Osama bin Laden.

A clarification. As “I mentioned last night”:, I worry that the results of the Spanish elections, in which the PP was thrown out and the PSOE were voted in as a response to last week’s bombings, will be seen as a victory for Islamists such as Osama bin Laden.
But as reader Ted points out

The PP was poised to win the election even after the bombing. They lost because it became clear that they were intentionally obfuscating the truth about the authorship of the bombings because they knew that if the truth came out, it would damage (although not completely) their chances at reelection. In other words, they lost the election because they were caught lying to the public about a very, very sensitive issue, on top of everything else. It was the lie that was the nail in the coffin. It was their own stupidity that sealed their fate, not the act of terrorism.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this, and I should have been more clear in my writing — jetlag sucks — that regardless of the reason the Spanish voted out the PP, it’s almost assured that al Qaeda and other terrorists will believe they influenced the election. It is this conclusion — rightly or wrongly drawn — that I fear will embolden the enemies of peace. It’s certainly a hell of a recruitment tool.
Juan cole “notes that”:

There is no evidence at all that the Spanish public desires the new Socialist government to pull back from a counter-insurgency effort against al-Qaeda. The evidence is only that they became convinced that the war on Iraq had detracted from that effort rather than contributing to it. This is not a cowardly conclusion and it is not a victory for al-Qaeda.

Well, not in an absolute universe, no, and the fact that the elections went off at all is a victory against al Qaeda. But I’m not so much worried about how the Spanish vote will be spun on _Le Monde’s_ editorial page as I am how it will be spun in Peshawar’s _madrassas_. In a battle of ideas, it’s not always what’s real that wins; more often what’s more pleasing to believe does.
So the question is: Does an electorate have a responsibility to throw out a manipulative, distant ruling party — hm… — regardless of the consequences regarding its alliances, or does it “suck it up” and stick with the current party so as not to give the bad guys any ammunition? I guess it depends on whether you think the Spaniards should follow their own national interests or the United States.’ Spanish voters apparently felt — for whatever valid or invalid reason — that their country’s interest didn’t align with those of the United States regarding Iraq. And no one should blame them for that.

Spain and Al Qaeda…

The American Prospect has a good interview with Jessica Stern, terrorism expert at Harvard University and author of “The Ultimate Terrorists” and “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill.” While all signs seem to point to al Qaeda, she brings up an interesting point that al Qaeda might be recruiting from within ETA. But regardless of whether ETA was involved or not, if last week’s bombing did influence the Spanish elections, this is hardly a good day for democracy.

The American Prospect has a good interview with Jessica Stern, terrorism expert at Harvard University and author of The Ultimate Terrorists and Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. In the interview, she speculates on possible linkages between ETA and al Qaeda. While all signs seem to point to al Qaeda, she brings up an interesting point that al Qaeda might be recruiting from within ETA.

Do you think that there is a relationship between the two groups?
I have to wonder whether there’s cooperation between ETA and Al Qaeda, and what this relationship might consist of. Al Qaeda is pragmatic and likes to avail itself of local operatives, expertise, and languages. They especially like to recruit locals. Al Qaeda has a large presence in Spain, so looking for partners like ETA would be at the top of their list.
We know that the majority of people in Spain oppose the war in Iraq, so it makes me wonder whether some members of ETA have been infiltrated by the Al Qaeda network. There’s also the chance that Al Qaeda might be recruiting within ETA.
I think the pragmatism of terrorist groups is emerging as they mature, as is a willingness to cooperate with organizations that would seem to be promoting completely different agendas. Also, sometimes we see that as possible terrorist organizations get closer to achieving their ostensible objective, zealots remain and carry out unprecedented attacks (as happened with the IRA). It’s not impossible to imagine that ETA could have done this even though it would be unprecedented for them.
Reports have said that Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for this bombing. Are these reports credible?
No. The group claiming to speak for Al Qaeda is notoriously unreliable — they even claimed responsibility for last summer’s blackout. Intelligence officials really don’t know anything about the group.

At any rate, I think it’s far more likely al Qaeda or at least an Islamist group is responsible. My initial suspicions — that ETA and al Qaeda may have been in league — are feeling less sure now with more and more evidence pointing to bin Laden’s network emerging daily. Also, a Qaeda attack fits in with my hypothesis that a spring offensive from both sides in the terror war is in the works. I wrote that al Qaeda would attempt to destabilize or overthrow the Saudi regime, destabilize Pakistan and/or weaken U.S. resolve with massive attacks within the country, possibly with WMD. Well, now add a fourth option: crack away at the U.S. alliance by forcing its European allies — Spain, Poland, Britain and Italy, for the most part — to withdraw from Iraq. Why is this important?
Two words: logistics and manpower.
The war on terror and Iraq are linked, although not in the way that President George W. Bush would like. They’re linked because much of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Spain’s 1,300 troops certainly weren’t adding much to the firepower there, but they were of significant symbolic value. If Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero makes good on his promise to pull Spanish troops out by June 30, that will adversely affect the ability of the U.S. to get other countries to help out after the sovereignty hand-over on June 30 — even with U.N. support. That means the bulk of the security responsibility in Iraq will continue to fall on the U.S. far into the foreseeable future with a hampering of its operational capacity elsewhere. The U.S. military, as powerful as it is, simply can’t keep up with Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and now North Africa. Al Qaeda is counting on this.
But back to Spain. I’m of two minds on this. One the one hand, I thoroughly support the democratic process and there is no doubt that despite a horrific bombing, the people of Spain had their voices heard loud and clear. The war in Iraq was immensely unpopular in Spain and it strikes me as stunningly arrogant for a purportedly democratic government to go against the wishes of so many of its citizens. On the other hand, I’m a full-blown supporter of the war against al Qaeda. I was at my desk working at 8:46 a.m. when the first plane snarled low over my neighborhood and slammed into the north Tower. I watched those buildings fall to the ground from my rooftop and saw my neighborhood turned into an armed camp for a week afterward. I know mass terror. I’m against anything that gives al Qaeda breathing room — which is why I opposed the Iraq war.
It was a horrible, needless distraction. There were no significant ties between Saddam’s government and al Qaeda. It was unlikely there were any Qaeda forces in Iraq prior to the fall of Baghdad — except for Ansar al-Islam in the area controlled by the Kurds outside of Saddam’s control. As far as being a threat to the United States, he was prevented from moving into two-thirds of his country, he was weakened by international sanctions and he had enemies on all sides: Turkey, Kurdistan, U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Iran. He had no weapons of mass destruction to give to al Qaeda even were he inclined to do so. Hell, even the rationale that he was a very bad man — a fact not in dispute — is taking a shellacking because all the mass graves seem to date from when he was either a U.S. puppet thug or immediately after the 1991 Gulf War in which the U.S. encouraged the Shi’as and the Kurds to rise up, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. They ended up in mass graves, in no small part due to the United States’ reluctance to act on their behalf.
Iraq was a colossal blunder that has costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars. There is, as yet, no end in sight.
But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. is now in Iraq and in need of allies if it hopes to prosecute the war on terror successfully. Billmon has a typically insightful take on this:.

I understand, and emotionally sympathize with, the desire of many readers to see Sunday’s election as a victory for the Spanish people — or for the progressive left, or for both. I, too, am glad the neo-Francoists of the Popular Party got the boot.
But as much as I might like to, I can’t apply that particular coat of sugar to the results, because I still think that something significant (and ominous, from an American point of view) has happened here: A well-timed terrorist attack has directly and dramatically influenced the results of a national election in a major country allied with the United States. What’s more, it has caused, or at least contributed to, a decisive defeat for a ruling party that had aligned itself closely with the current U.S. strategy for fighting terrorism — which, like it or not (and of course I don’t like it at all) includes the occupation and pacification of Iraq.

One the one hand, the Spaniards can argue that they have unyoked Iraq from the greater war on terror, which is how it should have been all along. On the other, now that the world’s go-to guy on fighting Islamic fanaticism is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, is this really the time to pull up stakes and say you’re on your own? I wish I had a decent answer. But I feel the Spanish, while remaining true to themselves as a democracy, may have just emboldened the real enemy.
PS: Back from Japan finally, but will, unfortunately, miss SXSW. My apologies.