Commentary by Martin Kelly
March 19, 2004
Since Jose Maria Aznar lost the Spanish general election for the Popular Party by opening his mouth too soon, some conservatives have taken to labelling the Spanish people cowards and appeasers. Any conservative who does this has automatically forfeited the right to complain of unfair criticism of the American electoral process from Europe, as it displays something approaching contempt for the free expression of the free will of a free people.
The tipping point against Aznar was apparently his immediate rush to blame ETA. It would have suited Aznar’s political purposes for ETA to be responsible – they were the home-grown enemy; and culpability on their part would automatically have deflected wrong-headed criticism that Islamists attack Western societies because of the war in Iraq. They don’t, they attack them because they’re Western. The majority of the conservatives who accuse the Spaniards of cowardice and appeasement haven’t seemed to grasp either of these points themselves.
To deal with each of these accusations in turn,
“After terrorists slaughtered 200 people in Madrid, presumably in retaliation for Spain’s courageous stance against them, her feckless voters chose to reward the terrorists instead” - David Limbaugh, ‘Senator Kerry, Champion of the Appeasers’, Townhall.com, March 16.
At the end of the piece, Mr. Limbaugh described the actions of the Spanish electorate as ‘cowardly’.
“The Spanish on Sunday said they wanted more terrorism. They voted to reward it.”
“The Spanish electorate’s – why not say it? - cowardice and self-degradation multiply the terrorist dangers facing the world”. - Bill Murchison, ‘A Victory for Terror’, Townhall.com, dated March 16.
“Perhaps Sunday’s election, which removed the leadership that took Spain into the war against Islamist terrorism, means that after the home-grown terrors of the 20th Century, Spain, like much of the rest of Europe, wants peace at any price’. - A subtle example of the Chamberlain insult from George Will, ‘Political Dynamite’, Townhall.com, March 16.
“The reign in Spain died mainly on the train”.
“The Spanish electorate decided to defeat the government for seeming to bring Islamist terrorist slaughter to Spain. It is true that a large majority of Spaniards never supported their government’s decision to send troops to Iraq. Nonetheless, the day before the terrorist attack, every Spanish poll and political expert predicted a solid win for Aznar’s party.But after the attack, about three million Spanish voters changed their impending electoral decision. Thus, their vote was not out of anger at Aznar’s policy, but out of fear of the terrorists’ wrath.” - Tony Blankley, ‘The Spanish Disease’. Townhall.com, March 17
"Many Spaniards apparently switched their votes from the Popular Party, which garnered 38 per cent of the vote, to give the terrorists what they wanted”. - Debra Saunders, ‘Spanish voters say: Viva violence’, Townhall.com, dated March 16. Later in the piece, Ms. Saunders does make reference to the fact that ETA might have been a credible suspect for the bombings. However, she concludes her article thus:
“Basque separatists now must be looking at how al Qa’eda achieved victory through violence and must be wondering if they should be more ruthless too”.
After that outburst, Chuck Colson was really quite anaemic – “There is a white flag blowing in the breeze over the beautiful city of Madrid”, - ‘An Ill Wind from Spain’, Townhall.com, dated March 16.
All of the above writers have taken the view that a free people enjoying a free franchise have engaged in a mass hysteria of cowardice and appeasement. Such people would be likely to be the first to complain that the Europeans’ perceptions of Americans are filtered through the too narrow prisms of New York and Los Angeles. However, the reverse process is also true – some Americans’ perceptions of Europeans are filtered through the very narrow views of London, Paris and Berlin. London is no more representative of English life than Plymouth or Barnsley.
However, there is a dangerous intolerance at work here. If Messrs Limbaugh and Murchison wish a campaign on which to crusade, they might have campaigned against the adoption of Islamic law as a source for the new constitution of Iraq. That action means that Iraq will fail again, through no other reason than real moral cowardice on the part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, just as Afghanistan will fail again because of the adoption of the Sharia in that country’s new constitution. Neo-conservatism is surely about the propagation of liberal democratic values. If you go to the time and trouble of invading a country to allegedly disarm it and then to spread those values, it is a legal nonsense to say that its law will be derived from undemocratic and illiberal sources. As a result, it’s unlikely that Iraqis will be voting much after the first elections. Calling free voters ‘cowardly’ because of how they elect to use their vote is hardly democratic.
Similarly, if Messrs. Will, Blankley and Colson and Ms. Saunders wish to describe people as appeasers, they might consider this. For years, my country was subjected to a campaign of terrorism by Communists dressed as Irish nationalists, who abetted the deaths of over 3,000 people over 30 years. They operated death squads. They were appeased by the same man you all laud as a great hero, Tony Blair, whose government can no longer guarantee the safety of the people of Belfast. Much of the money they collected in order to promote their work came from the United States. What role did Americans play in supporting terror in my country? Campaign against them, if you will, but not against informed and mature voters.
For the Spanish peoples’ decision was informed. Aznar, on the verge of a historic third term for the Popular Party, tried to guarantee victory by immediately spinning the attack against ETA. This was spin, pure and simple. It was not a failure of intelligence, such as that which afflicted the CIA and MI6 prior to the Iraqi War. By claiming it was ETA, Aznar either lied or sought to maximise the political advantage for his party. What he did was the mirror-image of a Democrat or leftist using 9/11 for their advantage. If we believe in democracy at all, then we have to criticise Aznar. If the Iraqi coalition falls apart because of this election, blame Aznar. Ultimately, the cowards and appeasers of the Spanish electorate decide they didn’t like being treated as if they were dumb, and voted accordingly.
But what would I know? I’m just a European.