Before the massacre in Madrid last Thursday, polls showed the conservative Partido Popular of President Jose Maria Aznar with a comfortable if slight lead, and poised to win control of the government once more. Three days later at the polls, Spaniards dealt the PP a stunning upset and put the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party at the top of the heap. That the elections were so decisively affected by the terrorist bombings is a bad precedent for democracy in Spain. But then again, so was the government’s decision to back the U.S. war in Iraq in defiance of the 90 percent of Spaniards who opposed such involvement.
It is still not completely clear who is responsible for the attack, but signs are beginning to point to Islamists despite the government’s early blaming of the Basque separatist ETA group. If it was al Qaeda or their allies, one might safely say that “the terrorists have won” because they succeeded in cowing the electorate to throw out an interventionist government for one that has promised to immediately withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq. Still, one cannot blame Spaniards for reacting this way.
There is no excuse for the barbarous attack in Madrid or terrorism anywhere; terrorists must be dealt with harshly. However, Spaniards who opposed the war understood that their country had no real national security interest in effecting regime change in Iraq, while involvement would make them a target of international terrorism. Seeking a noninterventionist foreign policy is not cowardly, but simply the pursuit of an intelligently selfish realpolitik.
Sadly, the price Spaniards will now pay for their vote may be very high. In castigating the PP, they voted out a government that has delivered liberalization, economic growth, and falling unemployment. In its place they have picked a left-wing party that in the years after Franco gave Spain just the opposite, and some would say corruption to boot.
It is maddening for noninterventionist conservatives and libertarians everywhere to realize the political reality that a foreign policy truly in the national interest will often come at the cost of leftist economic and social domestic policies. Worse, choosing noninterventionism can seem to be capitulation; it might even embolden terrorists whose actions affect political outcomes. This is a conundrum, but not one that is overcome by continuing down a path that puts a new world order ahead of national interests.
The electoral surprise in Spain might become a symbol of how terrorists can achieve their ends through violence. Alternatively Spaniards can choose to make lemonade out of lemons. They can seize this opportunity to show the world that noninterventionism is not incompatible with toughness on terror. Spain would do well to follow the foreign policy that almost all its citizens want, but at the same time mercilessly bring to justice those responsible for Thursday’s attack and also redouble its efforts to destroy ETA.
Jerry Brito is editor of Brainwash and a student at George Mason University School of Law. His Web site is jerrybrito.com.