FANNING ISLAND, Republic of Kiribati -- Out here, in the Gilbert Island archipelago, nearly halfway ?round the world from Spain, there is one topic that dominates nearly every conversation: the effect of the March 11 Madrid train bombings on the Spanish elections three days later.
The rush-hour explosions that killed 201 and wounded more than 1,750 were not only a devastating tragedy for the people of Spain, but a profound example of what every terrorist organization seeks to achieve: political change through violence. For the people of the United States and the Bush administration, the Madrid attack -- and its subsequent political fallout -- ought to be heard not as a wake-up call but as an alarm bell.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Spain has been one of our staunchest allies in the Global War on Terror. The moderately conservative Popular Party government of two-term Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar supported every U.S. initiative in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At the request of President Bush, Aznar dispatched 1,300 experienced Spanish counter-terrorism troops to aid coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- despite surveys showing that nearly 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the commitment.
When Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced, as a centerpiece of his party's campaign, that he would withdraw the Spanish troops if elected, Aznar held firm. And less than two weeks before last Sunday's elections, it appeared as though the Socialists -- trailing by more than 8 points -- would go down to defeat.
But the bombings changed everything. The day after he swept to an unexpected victory, Prime Minister-elect Zapatero announced that, absent a new U.N. resolution, Spain's sons would come home from Iraq immediately after an interim government assumes the reigns of power in Baghdad on June 30. After a call from the president urging him to reconsider, Zapatero told Spanish radio: "My position is very clear and very firm. The occupation is a fiasco."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.