Spanish voters say: Viva violence

Posted: Mar 16, 2004 12:00 AM

On Friday, terrorist bombs planted in Madrid trains killed 200 innocent people and wounded 1,500 others. On Saturday, Spaniards filled the streets to demonstrate their outrage over the carnage. Then, on Sunday, Spanish voters rewarded the mass murderers by electing Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero prime minister -- even though, before the slaughter, the Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (who had handpicked a successor) held a handy lead.

"It's become a cliche," said Cliff May of the anti-terror think tank the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, "but in this case, the terrorists have won."

No lie. It would be one thing if the Socialists were leading in the polls before the attacks and then won the election. But that's not what happened. The Socialists had been generating little more than apathy and no-shows at the polls. They were gearing up for defeat early last week -- despite the fact that some 90 percent of Spaniards opposed Aznar's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Iraq.

Many Spaniards apparently switched their votes from the Popular Party, which garnered some 38 percent of the vote, to give the terrorists what they wanted. They were joined by citizens who weren't going to vote but decided to go to the polls, oddly, to further the terrorists' goals.

Observers say Aznar erred in cynically scapegoating the Basque extremist group ETA for the bombings, while suppressing evidence that al Qaeda-linked extremists plotted the attacks.

But Aznar had his reasons to suspect ETA. For one thing, the group once tried to kill him. ETA killed 21 people in a supermarket in 1987. Two weeks ago, Spanish authorities found a large amount of explosives belonging to ETA destined for Madrid, and Spanish police interrupted a plot to explode a train in a Madrid station in December, the Economist reported.

"To be honest, I think most Spaniards, when we first heard about what happened (at the Atocha train station), all thought about ETA," noted the Spanish consul general in San Francisco, Camilo Barcia. Barcia still is not certain which group (or groups) is behind the attacks.

More to the point, if the government wanted to mislead voters into blaming Basques in order to help the Popular Party win, why did authorities arrest three Moroccans and two ethnic Indians the day before the election?

Zapatero has announced that his "most immediate priority is to beat all forms of terrorism."

I guess he means he'll beat all forms of terrorism after he achieves his first most immediate priority -- withdrawing Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq in June. You could respect Zapatero for sticking to his beliefs, if they didn't include appeasement. In November, he called for the withdrawal of Spanish troops after seven Spanish secret service agents died in an ambush in Iraq. The Madrid killings haven't prompted the new presidente to worry lest he reward thuggery.

When Spaniards thought ETA set the bombs, they were mad at ETA. When they thought Muslim extremists set the bombs, they blamed Aznar and President Bush -- not the terrorists.

Spain's loco left blames everyone except the real killers. This weekend, protesters shouted at the outgoing prime minister, "Aznar, killer" and "You fascists are the terrorists."

Oddly, both Bush and Barcia tried to paint the Spanish electorate's huge turnout as a victory for democracy. But the real victor in this story is terrorism. Ten bombs sealed an election.

Basque separatist leaders now must be looking at how al Qaeda achieved victory through violence and must be wondering if they should be more ruthless, too.