Jewish World Review March 17, 2004 / 24 Adar, 5764

Robert Robb

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Bin Laden makes distinctions? | The train bombs in Spain, however tragic, were not nearly as consequential as the subsequent vote by the Spanish people.

Terrorists have reason to believe that their actions caused a change of government in a modern democracy.

Spain had been an economic success story. It's economy grew while much of Europe stagnated. During Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's eight-year term in office, Spain was responsible for a third of all job growth in the European Union.

Spaniards strongly opposed Aznar's support of the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq and Spain's participation in the occupying force. But Aznar's action did make Spain a much more important player on the international stage.

Then the bombs hit. And Aznar's party, predicted to win, lost.

There were, apparently, two factors, difficult to disentangle, that changed the outcome. Aznar's government initially sought to blame the bombings on Basque separatists. Voters felt mislead when the evidence mounted that it was actually Islamic militants.

And there was a belief that Aznar's Iraqi involvement made Spain more of a target for Islamic terrorism.

There will be a tendency, particularly in the United States, to depict the decision of Spanish voters as either an emotional reaction to a tragedy or a caving-in to terrorism.

But it can also be seen as a rational act of self-interest.

Let's step back a moment and consider the challenge of Islamic militancy. The Islamic terrorists want a repressive theocratic state, such as existed with the Taliban. They also have a pan-Arab perspective: All Arabs should live in such a state. And they glorify in killing to bring it about.

The primary fight against Islamic militancy, then, should be waged by Muslims and Arabs who do not want to live in such a state.

But through a long history of extensively interventionist policies in the Middle East, the United States has elbowed its way to the front lines. What Osama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists say should be weighed much more carefully. They seem to say what they mean and do what they say, however psychopathic and repulsive.

The proximate cause of bin Laden's two declarations of war against the United States in the 1990s was our presence and influence on what he called the Arabian Peninsula. He sees Iraq as a continuation of U.S. efforts to be an occupying force on Arab land.

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Last October, bin Laden expressly threatened U.S. coalition partners in Iraq with retaliatory action, including Spain.

Now, militant Islamists hate the United States for what we are as well as for what we do. And Islam is a religion with universalist ambitions, as is Christianity.

But there does appear to be an isolationist and nativist streak to militant Islam. The hate that appears actionable is the presence and involvement in what the terrorists regard as holy land that should be inviolate to infidel influence.

And, indeed, a statement claiming to be from al-Qaida described the Spanish train bombings as a "warning," promising that "more blood will flow if you don't stop your injustice." That certainly seems to suggest that a change in behavior would result in Spain no longer being a target.

So, a decision to disengage from Iraq probably will make the people of Spain safer.

There should be no illusion, however, that multinationalism will be a safe harbor. The new Spanish prime minister, Jose Zapatero, said that Spanish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq unless the United Nations took over by June 30.

But bin Laden makes no distinction between what he calls the "iniquitous United Nations" and a U.S.-led coalition. To him, an infidel is an infidel. The civilized world clearly has a stake in moderate Muslims and Arabs prevailing over the Islamic militants.

The best course of action, however, is neither President Bush's U.S.-led forward strategy of pre-emption and force-fed democracy, nor John Kerry's retreat into an equally unsafe but much less effective multinationalism.

The best course of action is to transform the front line against Islamic terrorism into a fight by Muslims and Arabs for a better, more peaceful, secure and prosperous future.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


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