Headlines scream of the dead and the dying in Madrid and we try to wrap our minds and emotions around the devastation and fathom man's inhumanity to man. Then we look for political answers. The answers are elusive because we have a new kind of enemy.
Not so long ago, technology ushered in what we thought was a different kind of warfare, offering an impersonal distance between the killer and the killed. No longer would the man with the rifle have to look his enemy in the eye before drawing a bead, or thrusting the saber into his heart.
With the invention of the cannon, the airplane and the big bomb, the enemy was farther and farther away until finally he became an impersonal, inanimate speck on the horizon. He could be annihilated without human emotion.
But terrorism breeds a different animal, one that slithers among those he hates, willing to blow himself up in plane, car, bus or subway. He only wants to takes innocent life, including women and children, with him. He defines humanity down in the expectation that his evil will compel cowardice in those who - unlike him - love life and liberty.
Terrorists are life-haters who think they will score a triumph of the will because they are willing to lose everything. Their death wish has replaced the life wish of ordinary humans. Their handlers operate from a political strategy to weaken the West and its allies, to undercut democracy by exploiting the fault lines of European vulnerability.
William Shawcross, who became an unrelenting critic of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger after American troops went into Cambodia in pursuit of the Viet Cong in 1970, writes a brilliant defense of Tony Blair and George W. Bush for going into Iraq in pursuit of Saddam Hussein. In his new book, "Allies: The U.S., Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq," he argues that the threat of Saddam was both formidable and inevitable and to have left him in power would have been "immoral and dangerous."
Shawcross identifies the inability of the French and Germans to stand up against a ruthless dictator in Iraq as history repeats itself. "Twice during the 20th Century Europe proved unable to stand alone against totalitarianism," he writes. "Without the United States, it might either still be collaborating with Nazism or be under the control of the Soviet Union. It is arguable that the refusal of key European countries to stand up to the treat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 showed that it was still capable of failing the test that it flunked in 1936, when it should have threatened force."
The terrorism in Spain is meant to exploit the weak knees of Europe. This strategy certainly worked in the Spanish voters who turned out the center-right party that stood firm with civilization in Iraqi. Rodriguez Zapatero, who is to be the new prime minister in Spain, vows to pull out the 1,200 Spanish troops in Iraq, oblivious to the fact that this will send the message that terrorism pays.
The Islamic terrorists of our present day, like the Nazi Black Shirts of the 1930s, thrive by intimidating the weak and the innocent. They gather power and momentum when weak leaders cower before evil. That's why the new prime minister of Spain, confronts a unique moment to change the attitudes of those who elected him.
He can say, as the influential Paris newspaper Le Monde said in a brief moment of clarity after 9/11: "We Are All Americans Now." He should realize that this is no time to go wobbly. He could use the tragic reality in Madrid to forge a common front against terror. Peace requires a cunning awareness of the nature of the enemy. Surrender at the first of the enemy's bombs invites catastrophe.
Suicide bombers thrive in the Middle East, where the gross domestic product of all the Arab countries combined is less than that of Spain, as measured by the United Nations. The roots for this poverty lie not in the coalition countries, but in the inability of the Arabs to form decent governments with genuine political freedom. If Iraq becomes a democratic model in the Middle East, the thugs, tyrants, fanatics and terrorists are the losers, and they know it.
Tony Blair got it right: "If Europe and America are together," he said, "the rest will work with us. If we split . nothing but mischief will be the result."