Al-Qaida's terror attacks on March 11, 2004 (just prior to Spain's national elections), sought to establish the "Madrid Precedent," a strategic extension of what al-Qaida's planners in their "Letters to the Africa Corps" had called the examples of Mogadishu, Somalia, and Beirut, Lebanon. Stated crudely, Beirut (U.S. Marine barracks, 1983) and Mogadishu ("Blackhawk Down," 1993) told al-Qaida that if "we kill enough, they will withdraw."
Islamists murdered 191 Spaniards and wounded 1,800 on 3-11. Unlike Beirut, the "Madrid Precedent" targeted civilians in Spanish territory -- but on al-Qaida's map of the global caliphate, Spain is "al Andalus," a Muslim domain stolen by the Reconquista.
In the post-attack wave of hysteria, "Socialist peace candidate" Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected Spain's prime minister. He immediately withdrew Spanish troops serving in Iraq.
Hence the "Madrid Precedent" -- attack a democracy just before an election with the aim of electing a "peace candidate" who thinks al-Qaida's killers can be appeased.
Al-Qaida needed a Madrid Precedent. The "9-11 Precedent" hadn't worked as planned. Rather than perishing like a fire-struck Sodom or becoming "quagmired" in Afghanistan like the lurching Soviet military, the United States responded aggressively and creatively, and with an unexpected agility.
Moreover, America had chosen not merely to topple al-Qaida's Taliban allies, but had made the bold decision to go to "the heart of the matter" and wage a war for the terms of modernity in the center of the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East.
Don't think that al-Qaida's leaders didn't know that stroke -- establishing a democracy in Iraq -- represented a fatal threat to the terrorist organization.
Al-Qaida's dark genius had been to connect the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence. That utopian fantasy sought to explain and then redress roughly 800 years of Muslim decline. The rage energizing al-Qaida's ideological cadres certainly predated the post-Desert Storm presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.
In February 2004, al-Qaida's "emir in Iraq," Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bluntly noted he faced defeat. Islamist radicals were "failing to enlist support" and had "been unable to scare the Americans into leaving." Once the Iraqis established their own democracy, Zarqawi opined, al-Qaida was lost. Moreover, a predominantly Arab Muslim democracy offered the Muslim world an alternative to al-Qaida's liturgy of embedded grievance. Zarqawi's solution to looming failure was to murder Iraqi Shias and ignite a "sectarian war."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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