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Jewish World Review March 18, 2004 / 25 Adar, 5764

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Al Qaeda’s electoral victory | Voters in Spain pulled the lever for al Qaeda on Sunday, and it may only be a matter of months before Osama bin Laden tries to replicate the results in the U.S.

It also shows that al Qaeda may have been more concerned with Saddam staying in power than the world realized.

Although evidence that al Qaeda is responsible is nowhere near ironclad yet, the fact that the election can be chalked up as a victory for terrorists everywhere, especially al Qaeda, is.

Heading into this past weekend's elections, Spain's Popular Party — headed by Prime Minister Jose Aznar, a strong U.S. ally in the War on Terror — held a small but distinct lead. 

Friday's simultaneous explosions on commuter trains in Madrid, though, scrambled everything.  With 200 people dead, the ruling Popular Party was abandoned by voters hoping that al Qaeda couldn't see their heads if they were buried deep enough in the sand.

The socialists — who have been harshly critical of Aznar's alliance in the fight against terror, particularly when Saddam was targeted — will most likely (and sadly, correctly) take their mandate as accommodationism.

The irony, of course, is that opponents of the war in Iraq labeled it a "distraction" from the war on terror, yet Aznar's party suffered because voters believed Spain was targeted by al Qaeda for its support in ousting Saddam.

But if critics of the war in Iraq are right and al Qaeda had no special fondness for Saddam, then why would they carry out his revenge against one of Bush's staunchest supporters?

And if Britain is targeted next — which many in the intelligence field are already whispering — what else could that say about al Qaeda's supposedly non-existent relationship with Saddam?

All of this means the US must brace itself for a new wave of attacks.  And if al Qaeda can pull it off, it could be a carbon copy of Spain's election-eve surprise.

To execute the spectacular attacks of 9/11, al Qaeda only needed 19 men, flight school training that involved flying and not landing, and some box cutters.  If the goal is altering the course of a democracy, even less might be needed.

It's possible that following the Spain attacks, train security in the United States will be overhauled and dramatically improved.  It probably won't, though.

Why am I so pessimistic? 

Because in traveling the eastern corridor between DC and New York regularly since 9/11, I have not once yet had to produce identification in order to board--despite Amtrak policy dictating otherwise.

Not once have I had my bag checked.

Not once have I walked through a metal detector.

Taking the subway or commuter trains repeatedly in Chicago, DC, and New York, the vulnerabilities are instantly apparent.  Packed trains, little to no security, and in DC, multiple trains sometimes backed up one next to the other in a tunnel between stations.  It doesn't take much imagination to fathom the havoc that could be all-too-easily wreaked.

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Trains are inherently soft targets, and the only way to change that is to scrap the train service in the US as we know it. 

Which means you shouldn't expect it anytime soon.

But it's not like trains are the only high-profile soft targets.  This is why every expert says the question of another major attack in the US is one of "when, not if."

If Aznar's Spain was a ripe al Qaeda target for punishment, imagine how bin Laden's supporters must feel about George W. Bush.  President Bush ousted the Taliban, which had provided a base for al Qaeda's operations, and then toppled Saddam, who had provided safe haven for any number of terrorists over the years.

By refusing to bend or bow in the face of evil, Bush has made himself a prime target for radical Islamic wrath.  That's not to say that the answer is accommodation; we've tried that already. 

Terror didn't stop after the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, nor after the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings.  And the U.S.S. Cole tragedy in 2000 was followed the next year by the worst attack in our history.

America has learned its lesson.  Let's hope Spain doesn't have to learn as we did.

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JWR contributor Joel Mowbray is the author of "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security". Comment by clicking here.

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