Over the past eight years of free-market reforms, Spain's economy has prospered mightily. Somehow, nonetheless, a fundamental lesson of economics never sank into Spanish consciousness.
The lesson is that what a society wants more of, it rewards; what it wants less of, it penalizes. The Spanish on Sunday said they wanted more terrorism. They voted to reward it. Out, at the voters' bidding, goes the party that had been fighting the terrorists; in comes the party that has obstructed the fight, insofar as it could, and pledges now to pull all Spanish troops out of Iraq.
It is easy to see how all this adds up. More terrorism is what we get. Oh, perhaps the Spanish won't feel the worst effects. Having slunk away from the battlefield, tails tucked between hind legs, the Spanish may earn some kind of reprieve from al Qaeda. Fat lot of good it will do in the end. The Spanish electorate's -- why not say it? -- cowardice and self-degradation multiply the terrorist dangers facing the whole world. If a terror bombing can bring down one democratic western government, why not more bombings, more prospective government downfalls?
For the moment, there isn't much we can do about the Spanish except, in my own case, quit buying their excellent wine. We could wish for the return of El Cid -- rallying as of old his dispirited countrymen. But that won't happen. We have first to talk about, and worry about, the United States.
The reality, as we know, is that many Americans self-exclude themselves from the Coalition of the Willing. These are such as declare with superb confidence that George W. Bush "lied" us into war, and who believe the only thing that matters in the late winter of 2004 is that no weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up in Iraq. Sen. John Kerry is more or less the anointed spokesman for this group, with notable assistance from what might be styled the International Brotherhood of Bush Haters.
Kerry gives no encouragement to voters who might imagine there is merit in the Iraq war. Without saying specifically how he would have done better than George Bush (apart from relying more heavily on the United Nations), he makes known that under a Kerry presidency a very different Iraq policy would evolve. Only last week, he announced that unspecified foreign leaders have told him, "You've got to beat this guy."
This must be music to al Qaeda's collective ear. Let us see: Bombs terrify the Spanish into their most crushing back down since the Armada. How shall we terrorists similarly influence the American crusaders? With pre-November election attacks on soft targets? Football crowds, say? Movie theaters? Churches? Could well-timed, cell-phone-generated explosions produce on American lips the same whining, whimpering noises heard throughout Spain? Why not at least try? The question must surely arise: Has Spain's electorate sentenced to death thousands of people very like those Spaniards slaughtered last week as they rode the train to work? .
And what next? A more generalized whimpering among democratic westerners? A pullback from confrontation? We used to call it appeasement. Give 'em what they want! Just don't let 'em (sob) hit us! You will recall how wonderfully this strategy worked in the 1930s.
We should note one difference between now and the '30s: Herr Hitler had concrete demands. We knew what he wanted. What do these nameless, stateless terrorists want? They evidently want, and pursue, the destruction of the West, of democracy, of Christianity itself.
The West, thus threatened, is truly demoralized if it can't rise to its hind legs, call evil evil and then smite those who conspicuously need smiting. Less and less clear in these terrible times is the West's ability so much as to recognize in its midst the presence of evil.
Not that we aren't due repeated opportunities to look evil in the face. For that grim and bloody certainty, say gracias to the Spanish.