For US hawks, Madrid 2004 = Munich
1938 By Jim Lobe
For neo-conservative and other right-wing US hawks,
Madrid has suddenly become Munich in 1938 and Spain's
prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is
former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain.
In an extraordinarily unanimous campaign,
newspaper columnists and television commentators are
flooding the media with cries of "appeasement", the
dreaded epithet with which Chamberlain was permanently
tagged after his meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler,
which permitted Nazi Germany to slice off a major chunk
In the hawks' view, the
electoral defeat of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's
People's Party in the wake of last Thursday's bombings,
followed by Zapatero's pledge to withdraw Spanish troops
from Iraq by July 1, marks a collapse of will by a key
US ally in President George W Bush's "war on terrorism"
that will only encourage Islamist extremists.
"Neville Chamberlain, en espanol" was the
title of the featured column by Ramon Perez-Maura of
Madrid's ABC newspaper on the neo-conservative editorial
page of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, while the New
York Times' David Brooks asked in his bi-weekly column
on Tuesday, "What is the Spanish word for appeasement?"
Tony Blankley, editorial-page editor for The
Washington Times, was quick to put a name to what he
called Zapatero's "policy of appeasement" - "The Spanish
Disease" - while the increasingly neo-conservative
editorial writers at the Washington Post worried that
the Socialist leader's "rash" response to the bombings
will mark the beginning of a domino effect throughout
"The danger is that Europe's reaction to
a war that has now reached its soil," the Post said,
"will be retreat and appeasement rather than
strengthened resolve," a point echoed by Edward Luttwak,
a longtime fixture of the national-security
commentariat, who wrote in the New York Times, "The
Zapateros of Europe ... seem bent on validating the
crudest caricatures of 'old European' cowardly
The image was starkly drawn as well
by Robert Kagan, the neo-conservative who coined the
phrase "Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from
Warning that the bombings and the
election results in Spain "have brought the United
States and Europe to the edge of the abyss", the
co-founder of the Project for the New American Century
(PNAC), whose alumni include the most powerful hawks in
the Bush administration, poured scorn on European
Commission President Romano Prodi's comment after the
attacks that "it is clear that using force is not the
answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists".
"Are Europeans prepared to grant all of
al-Qaeda's conditions in exchange for a promise of
security?" asked Kagan. "Thoughts of Munich and 1938
come to mind."
While some of these commentators
conceded that Aznar might himself bear some
responsibility for the sudden turn of events - notably
by trying to blame the Basque group ETA (Euskadi Ta
Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Liberty) even while
evidence that the perpetrators were radical Islamists
was becoming overwhelming - the basic thrust of all
their comments was that, by supporting Zapatero, the
Spanish electorate had lost its will to confront the
larger terrorist threat, just as Chamberlain had done in
handing over the Sudetenland.
interpretation of the Spanish electorate's choice and of
Zapatero himself obviously ignored a number of factors,
among them the fact that the Socialist leader said
explicitly from the moment of his victory that he was
committed to the fight against terrorism.
most immediate priority is to fight all forms of
terrorism," he said. "And my first initiative, tomorrow,
will be to seek a union of political forces to join us
together in fighting it."
commentators here generally ignored that vow, or refused
to take it seriously, helps illustrate their view -
which they have been hawking since September 11, 2001,
with great success among the US public - that Iraq is
part of the larger "war on terrorism", as opposed to
there being two different conflicts.
hawks' view, opting out of one war means opting out of
both - a notion that accords very well with their
"you're either with us or you're against us" political
But the Spanish electorate, like
much of the rest of the world, clearly did not see it
that way. "In this country [the US], Iraq and terrorism
are indelibly linked in the public mind," said Charles
Kupchan, a foreign-policy specialist at the Council on
Foreign Relations. "In Europe, they are almost indelibly
"Indeed, there's a general sense in
Europe that the war in Iraq has certainly not advanced
the struggle against terror and probably degraded it,"
he added, noting Tuesday's release by the Pew Global
Attitudes Project of surveys in eight European and Arab
countries that showed strong majorities who concur on
that assessment (see US foreign policy is popular - in the
US, March 18).
Juan Cole, a Middle East
specialist at the University of Michigan, asserted that,
by mixing Iraq with al-Qaeda, the neo-conservatives in
particular had made a strategic error in the "war
against terrorism" that is now coming home to roost.
"Aznar, in supporting Bush on the war against
Iraq, was not standing up to al-Qaeda," Cole wrote,
noting that the former prime minister's decision to
deploy troops and spend financial and intelligence
resources in Iraq meant those same assets could not be
used against al-Qaeda, even when it was clear from last
May's attack on a Spanish cultural center in Casablanca
that Islamist terrorists had Spain in their sights.
"How much did Spain spend to go after the
culprits in Casablanca?" asked Cole. "How much did Bush
dedicate to that effort? How much did they instead
invest in military efforts in Iraq?" In that respect,
Zapatero's pledge to refocus the war against al-Qaeda
can hardly be called a "victory for [Osama] bin Laden",
But aside from this rather
fundamental disagreement over whether Iraq is or is not
part of the "war against terrorism", the eagerness with
which the hawks have taken to comparing the Spanish
electorate's verdict to the 1938 Munich agreement also
betrays a basic distrust of democracy, about which the
neo-cons have long been ambivalent.
view, it was liberal democracies that appeased Hitler in
the 1930s and so paved the way to World War II and the
Nazi Holocaust. Indeed, the perception that "liberals"
failed to fight for their principles in the 1960s is
what first alienated neo-conservatives from the
The neo-cons' perception that
Spaniards voted for the Socialists out of fear of
al-Qaeda's wrath confirms to them that democracy,
particularly of the European variety, is weak.
"Now all European politicians will know that if
they side with America on controversial security
threats, and terrorists strike their nation, they might
be blamed by their own voters," wrote Brooks, who argued
that US voters would, in a comparable situation, rally
around their president. "Does anyone doubt that
Americans and Europeans have different moral and
political cultures?" he added.
contention ignores the growing weight of political
opinion that the main reason for the last-minute swing
to the Socialists was public outrage with the Aznar
government's attempts to withhold and manipulate what it
knew about the perpetrators for its own political
advantage, as well as citizens' opposition to the Iraq
war. Such attitudes were reported by journalists after
the election in Madrid.
"In interviews," the New
York Times reported, "they said they [voted for the
Socialists] not so much out of fear of terror as out of
anger against a government they saw as increasingly
authoritarian, arrogant and stubborn."
lesson might cut a little too close to the bone for the
hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq.