Dastardly speaking, March 2004 has been a very good month.
That is, if you're a terrorist. In fact, things haven't looked so bright since September 2001. Ah, now that was an exceedingly good month.
The highlight of spring's calendar was undisputedly March 11 with the Madrid bombings and consequent election redirection.
Timed just three days before the country's election, the train explosions that killed nearly 200 and wounded 1,800 had the desired result.
One day conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, among the staunchest U.S. allies in the war on Iraq, was certain to win election for a third consecutive term. Boom! Seventy-two hours later, he's gone, and newly elected socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero immediately begins threatening to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
Any way you cut it - however one explains the electoral shift - that's effective terrorism.
Some have explained Aznar's overthrow as a protest against his secretive government rather than as a concession to terrorists. In the immediate aftermath of the bloodbath, the Aznar government attributed the bombings to Basque separatists - not an unlikely supposition given decades of attacks by the ETA, a terrorist group seeking to make the Basque region of northern Spain into an autonomous homeland.
It's possible that the Spanish vote was a mandate for truth in government. More likely, it was exactly as it will be interpreted by the terrorists - a massive display of appeasement by a people reeling from the sight of human body parts propelled from exploding train cars. They effectively said that Spain would withdraw support from the imperialist United States if terrorists would just leave them in peace.
I don't say this necessarily critically. Surrender is an all too human response to terror, one the terrorists count on. Although monsters themselves, they understand that more civilized people can be relied upon to behave in civilized ways. Any notion we have that terrorist behavior can be predicted based on our own moral standards is obtuse and wasted.
But it is too bad. It is unfortunate for all democratic nations that now will have to think twice before casting a vote or supporting a government that does not play nice with terrorists. No matter how you dice it, the terrorist orchestration of Spain's election, and now the possible withdrawal of Spain's troops, has hurt the United States directly and made the world more vulnerable.
One might surmise that Osama bin Laden couldn't have been happier, but then along came former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke with a basket of rose petals - his amazingly timed (surely accidental) expose blasting President Bush's handling of the terrorist threat just in time for the 9/11 commission investigating same.
Never mind that Clarke's testimony and earlier statements praising Bush's handling of terrorism contradict his book. The effect of expanding Bush's credibility deficit may save bin Laden and company the trouble of explosives.
Not that Clarke ever intended such a thing - he's just trying to sell some books after all - and I'm happy to leave dot-connecting to the commission. Although as a side note: If Clarke truly were as convinced three years ago as he now says he was that bin Laden posed an imminent threat to the United States, why didn't he quit his job, call a news conference, possibly save 3,000 lives, and spare us the genius of hindsight?
Finally, as icing on the cake, terrorism got a little PR boost several days ago when Israel took out Hamas leader Sheikh AhmedYassin. The poor fellow was a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, went the spin against this "troubling" act, to quote our very own President Bush. How did a murderous terrorist responsible for the deaths of some 600 Israeli civilians suddenly become a sympathetic character? Go figure.
Here's what the terrorists will figure. As bin Laden once put it: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."
To the Islamist-terrorist mind, the United States and its willing coalition are slowly being made to seem the weak horse. Surrender in Madrid; political back-biting, second-guessing and blaming in America; scolding and clucking sympathy for a terrorist-murderer killed by our own ally in a justifiable act of self-defense, all combine to make March a very good month indeed.
If you're a terrorist.