Fueling the inferno

Posted: Apr 06, 2004 12:00 AM

 Shortly after Spanish voters rewarded the terrorists responsible for the Madrid bombing that killed 191 people -- by electing a Socialist prime minister despite polling that showed the ruling Popular Party winning before the attacks -- the thugs are back making threats. Unless Spain withdraws all Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan "completely and immediately," a letter from a self-described al Qaeda spokesman threatened, terrorists will turn Spain into an "inferno."
"This raises the stakes for Spain," noted Tucker Eskew, a former adviser to President Bush. "The gauntlet was thrown down in Madrid, and we'll see if (those in the new government) pick it up, or run from it and suffer the consequences."
The letter, deemed "credible" by the Spanish Interior Ministry, shows what happens when you give an inch to terror. The pressure didn't ease when Spanish voters switched political parties. The pressure increased and then spread so that nationals across the world live in fear of the next big attack.

 Indeed, last week, NBC reported a new al Qaeda "Targets Inside Cities" list that suggested the priority in which human beings should be targeted: In order, they are Americans, British, Spanish, Australians, Canadians and Italians.

 Even mild-mannered Canadians, eh?

 But it figures, even if the Canadian government opposes the U.S. mission in Iraq and is not a member of the coalition. Canada sent troops to Afghanistan; it only takes one strike to earn a bull's eye.

 The fact is, once it becomes legitimate for partisans to kill innocent civilians, anyone can land on the list. And it is folly to think that any group is exempt.

 So Spanish voters could dethrone the party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and still find a bomb on the high-traffic, high-speed Madrid-Seville rail line last week. Now, what if Madrid caves in to the withdrawal demand? Figure at the very least that ETA, the Basque terrorist organization, will issue its own do-or-die demands.

 Last week also saw the release of a report that examined the security lapses that contributed to the Aug. 19, 2003, bombing of United Nations headquarters in Iraq that wounded 150 and killed 22, including the chief U.N. representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The report blames U.N. officials who failed to secure the headquarters' perimeter and failed to have blast-resistant materials on the site's windows, corridors and glass doors.

 Some attention, if understated, was directed to the root of the lack of security: Many U.N. personnel thought that they would not be targets. And they adhered to the dangerous theory that they would be safer away from the protection of the U.S.-led coalition.

 As the report noted, top U.N. officials "appeared to be blinded by a conviction that U.N. personnel and installations would not become a target of attack, despite clear warnings to the contrary ... It is, therefore, fair to say that this false sense of security was a state of mind that was shared by all the senior U.N. political and humanitarian staff in Iraq."

 The worst of it is that the U.N. victims were good people trying to bring order and hope to a devastated people. Yet their senseless deaths gave the forces of terror a victory as the United Nations pulled out international workers whom it determined it could not protect.

 The lesson is clear: It is a mistake to believe that good intentions can protect anyone from terror. Good intentions only protect people in a rational universe. Good deeds can't protect do-gooders when the Taliban and al Qaeda have labeled aid workers as legitimate targets.

 Being on the right side didn't protect the Red Cross from an October attack that killed 12. It can't protect the United Nations. It can't protect Spain. It can't protect U.S. troops and Iraqi forces who are trying to establish a free Iraq. It can't protect Muslims. It can't protect children.

 The United Nations learned the hard way that it could distance itself from U.S. forces and only increase the danger.

 Now, the Bush administration is pushing for an increased U.N. presence. In that the free world is terror's target, the United Nations would be a welcome ally, with a presence that might give peace-minded Iraqis some reassurance.

 But the United Nations can prevail only if its leaders have a solid understanding of the enemy. Otherwise, there will be another attack, followed by another withdrawal.

 Not understanding the mindless blood lust of terror and not being outraged at it are the surest ways of fueling the inferno.