Al-Qaida hoped the "3-11" assault would affect Spain's national elections and bring to power a government that would withdraw Spanish troops from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. This would be the first step in shattering the Iraq coalition and politically isolating the U.S. At some point, America would skedaddle as well, and al-Qaida would chalk up an even greater strategic triumph.
With the assistance of defeatist politicians and defeatist media in Europe and the U.S., al-Qaida achieved its initial goal. Following the 3-11 attack, "Socialist peace candidate" Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected Spain's prime minister. He ordered Spain's troop contingent to leave Iraq.
The U.S., however, has stuck it out, and so have the Iraqi people, and in so doing have dealt al-Qaida a major military and psychological defeat.
Yet al-Qaida's leaders cling to what they believe is a great geo-strategic truth: "If we kill enough of them, they will withdraw." al-Qaida theorists point to Beirut (U.S. Marine barracks, 1983) and in Mogadishu, Somalia, ("Blackhawk Down," 1993) as examples of terrorist action leading to U.S. military withdrawal from what al-Qaida regards as Muslim territory.
The Madrid and Mumbai attacks, and arguably 9-11, are a bit different. In these cases, militant Islamist terrorists launched deep attacks in non-Muslim territory designed to affect counter-terror military operations in other theaters (Iraq and western Pakistan) or what they touted as a U.S. military threat to Islam's holiest shrines (post-Desert Storm U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia).
On al-Qaida's grandiose map of the global caliphate, however, Spain is "al Andalus," a Muslim domain filched by the Reconquista. In the minds of al-Qaida commanders, Madrid lies in Muslim territory.
Berlin and Paris never knew Muslim rule, but German and French troops serve with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. France has had special operations forces involved since 2001. Predators firing Hellfire missiles are killing terrorists in their Pakistani sanctuaries, and doing so relentlessly. Al-Qaida's senior commanders appear to believe a bloodbath on the Champs Elysee will force the Predators to withdraw.
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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