Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Reasonable People Can Disagree

Of all the takes on the Spanish election that disagree with mine, Edward Hugh's has to be the most level-headed and perceptive I've come across. Here is someone who gets what is at stake, regardless of whether one thinks the war in Iraq was justified or not.

I understand that Zapatero would wish to negotiate a greater role for the UN, and I agree with him. But if we get to that magic date (30 June), and the consensus formula has not been found - and I dearly hope that it will be - I do not think it would be responsible politics to remove Spanish troops. I think that my understanding of responsible government under democracy is to accept responsibility for the errors of your predecessors, even if you don't agree with them. Iraq is in chaos, all parties to the intervention have some responsibility for that, and Spain cannot simply up and leave. This, as the Washington Post piece I post below indicates, would only make the job harder for the Poles and the Italians. This would also make the job of destabalising Iraq easier for Al Qaeda. It is a moot point whether Al Qaeda was a serious problem in Iraq before the invasion. It certainly is now, and no one should be thinking of leaving any time soon. Being serious about terrorism in the Spanish context means: solving the Basque 'problem', opening a serious and sustained dialogue with Morocco (which would include the future of Ceuta and Melilla and the Sahara - without giving in on this one - the loss of life in the Gibraltar Straits and how to avoid this, and the position of Moroccan immigrants within Spain), and retaining a commitment to Iraq until such time as the country is able to maintain stability for itself. This latter situation I think is years, not months, away.

I couldn't have put it better myself. Instead of wasting time and energy rehashing old arguments, we ought to be thinking with an eye on the future, and when we do so, it seems pretty clear that the threat of a unilateral pullout issued by Zapatero was ... ill-advised. Spain's departure will make no material difference to the American effort on the ground in Iraq, but what it has done is deliver a massive propaganda coup to the terrorists who attacked Madrid. What sense does it make to expend far more energy lambasting Bush and Blair, as Zapatero actually did, than on making clear to terrorists of any hue - and not just the ETA variety - that he is prepared to hunt them down to the ends of the Earth?

Had Zapatero made a point of emphasizing an even deeper commitment to challenging terrorism worldwide than Aznar had done, the attackers would have been deprived of whatever propaganda gains they might have hoped to make, and my criticism of the Spanish electorate would have lost most of its force, but that isn't what has happened. One can be sure that were Labour to be similarly bombed out of office in the UK, the Conservative Party would be even more implacable in its response than Blair could ever be, which is one good reason to think that the next outrage won't occur in Britain but somewhere else in continental Europe.