At first blush, the election results from Spain aren’t good news for the war against al-Qaeda. In something of a surprise compared to pre-bombing polls, the rightist Popular Party was booted out of office and replaced by the Socialists.
If this means that the Spanish electorate just voted to surrender to the terrorists, that’s a disaster. If, on the other hand, the voters were punishing the PP for the outgoing Prime Minister’s swift and incorrect attribution of the bombing to the Basque separatist movement ETA, which he then made into a partisan attack on the Socialists for being friendlier to Basque demands for autonomy than the PP has been, then I’d say the PP got about what it deserved. (Update: Apparently some voters believed that the government had withheld information pointing to al-Qaeda as the cuprit.)
Spain has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Socialists had already threatened to pull out of Iraq unless the UN takes over after the June 30 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. If they also pull out of Afghanistan, one would have to say that the vote represented a big win for the bad guys, and a big defeat for U.S. diplomacy.
Both sides in the U.S. will probably find that this stengthens their already-held views. The hawks will think that they were right to give up on “old Europe,” and the doves will reflect that the unpopularity of cowboy foreign policy isn’t just among the elite, but extends to the voters in some of the countries most friendly to us.
And the anti-war hawks (such as Wesley Clark) — folks who thought that the war on al-Qaeda should have been finished off before we took on Iraq — will also find in this latest development support for their point of view. The Iraq invasion was massively unpopular in Spain even before the bombing; not so, as far as I can tell, Spain’s participation in Afghanistan.
The problem for the US right now is how to make it seem to the Spanish Socialists that helping us will be more consistent with their own goals than hurting us. I hope that when the cursing and blustering is over, someone in Washington will be giving serious thought to that question, rather than organizing a boycott of bullfights and renaming the neighborhood around 110th and Lexington “Freedom Harlem.”
Update An obvious point I didn’t think of: The clear implication of this attack for the US that al-Qaeda is still capable of mounting something major, and it would be nice to know what the Administration has been doing to prevent the next blow from landing here, other than keeping the Department of Homeland Security non-union.
Second update More here