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Spain: Accusations Of Voter 'Appeasement' Reveal Split in U.S., European Views Of Terrorism

  • Andrew Tully

Some American politicians are saying that the defeat of the center-right party of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and his successor's determination to withdraw the country's forces from Iraq, show a lack of will in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Analysts say many Europeans simply do not agree with U.S. President George W. Bush that Iraq is a major front in the campaign against terrorism.

Washington, 19 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Spanish people -- by voting out the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar -- are being portrayed by some in the United States as giving in to the demands of terrorists, and thereby empowering them to kill again.

"I think people in Europe make a sharper distinction than Americans between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq."
Aznar, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. But many in Spain see last week's bombings in Madrid, which killed more than 200 people, as a direct consequence of the country's support for the war.

Spain's Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to pull Spanish forces out of Iraq unless the United Nations takes political charge of the situation in the country by the scheduled 30 June transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition.

The negative attitude toward Spain in the United States is not confined to the country's newspaper columnists and other media commentators. On 17 March, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert -- a member of U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican Party -- said Spaniards "chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists."

At the same time, another leading Republican, Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the influential House International Relations Committee, added: "The voices of appeasement are being heard in Europe. But there are other voices that caution resistance, resistance to tyranny."

Democratic Senator John Kerry, who is challenging Bush for the presidency in the November election, is opposed to the way the administration has handled the war in Iraq. Yet on 17 March, Kerry also urged Zapatero not to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

"I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their acts of terror," Kerry said.

Radek Sikorski, a former foreign minister and defense minister for Poland, says these U.S. politicians appear to be equating the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism. Sikorski tells RFE/RL that Europeans do not see it the same way.

Sikorski says that, even before the Madrid bombings, European governments were vigorous in their pursuit of terrorists, including those suspected of involvement in the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001.

"I think people in Europe make a sharper distinction than Americans between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Public opinion, even in countries whose governments supported the United States – [such as] Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland -- is against involvement in Iraq. And in a democracy, when you take your country against the grain of public opinion, you get punished. It's almost a surprise that it's taken so long," Sikorski said.

Sikorski says that is not the only way in which Europeans and Americans differ on dealing with terrorism. He referred to today's emergency meeting of European Union justice and interior ministers in Brussels, which was called to discuss ways to prevent a recurrence of the Madrid attacks.

The meeting, Sikorski notes, was not called for the EU's defense ministers. Interior ministers deal with police and other internal security services, which, he says, are the appropriate agencies to fight terrorism.

"Terrorists strike targets in Europe. You can't deal with it by putting tanks in the street. You have to find them and arrest them all or liquidate them. And that's a job for interior ministers," Sikorski said.

Marina Ottaway is a senior associate of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, a private policy research center in Washington. Ottaway believes a military approach to fighting terrorism does have its place -- for example, in Afghanistan.

"Using the blunt instrument of the military in Afghanistan did make sense in terms of the war on terror, to deprive Al-Qaeda of the safe territory where it could set up elaborate training operations," Ottaway said.

But Ottaway agrees that using police rather than the military is more often appropriate. She says this is not only the traditional European approach, but also that of the United States, as well -- at least before the terror attacks of 2001.

As for going to war in Iraq, Ottaway believes that it was in no way a part of the war against terrorism -- and so, she says, it is not surprising that the invasion is so widely condemned in Europe.

"There is no reason to believe from the information that we have now that the war in Iraq has a direct impact on the functioning of terrorist organizations,” she says, “because all the evidence that exists suggests that certainly Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not a main center for the training of terrorists, that Saddam was not harboring terrorists and helping them in their activities and so on. Saddam has many sins on his conscience, but the kind of terrorism that Al-Qaeda is perpetrating is not one of them."
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