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Friday, March 12, 2004
Political Effects and the Bombings in Spain

By Steven Taylor @ 6:55 am

I almost hate to pose this question, as it could appear insensitive, but I can�t help but wonder about the political implications of events, even tragic and despicable ones such as the bombings in Spain.

So here�s the question: if al Qaeda is, in fact, behind the bombings in Spain, does that bolster President Bush�s argument that we are in a global war on terror and that we need a president in office who sees the conflict in those terms? Or, does the fact that al Qaeda was able to pull off a large attack on one of our key allies in the war on terror mean that the President�s policies have failed, and therefore signaling the need for a change?

It occurs to me that the administration is in something of a catch-22: they believe that we are at war against terrorism, but if there are no major attacks, citizens have to wonder if the war rhetoric isn�t just hyperbole. However, if attacks do take place, which confirm the idea that there is indeed an ongoing process of attack on the US and its allies, then does not a successful attack mean that the US and its allies have failed in the war?

To put it simply: no attacks, and people ask, what war? A successful attack and people will assert: we are losing the war!

It will be interesting to see how the Kerry campaign and Terry McAuliffe deal with these events in the campaign.

A related question will be: will this attack strengthen the resolve of the Spanish in their commitment to fight international terror, or will this attack (again, if it is al Qaeda behind it) lead the citizen of Spain to blame the US involvement in Iraq, and Aznar�s alliance with Bush, for bringing this attack down on their heads? This attack could result in either Spain as a stronger ally, or it could result in them scaling back or withdrawing from their involvement with the US in Iraq and elsewhere.

UPDATE: This is my entry in today’s Beltway Traffic Jam

  • linked with The Politics of the Bombing
  • Quotes, Thoughts, and other Ramblings linked with Spain's Tragedy

Click here to go to the main page.


  1. The president was very precise in the state of the union to explain how viewing terrorism in terms of police action was wrong - ie the original trade center bombings in ‘93 - which “didn’t stop terrorism". And went to on to say how the war on terror was the “correct” metaphor.

    But, as you say, this perhaps leaves the admin in a bit of a bind.

    The problem with the war metaphor is that, among other things, 1) Wars need clear objectives & conditions for victory - very easy to define when you’re talking about land or governments. War on Terrorism is such a nebulus term. Not unlike the war on drugs which didn’t work either. 2) Countries can’t maintain a state of war-readiness forever for lots of reasons. We can’t be in “fighting mode” for 50 years. Its just not sustainable. The police metaphor has problems too.

    I think the answer is that we need a metaphor that either lies between war & police, or incorporates some of both. For example, instead of defining a global war on terrorism, you identify specific targets - ie al qaida, esf, shining path - in terms of a war, when you have a chance for more clear cut victories. The administration has done well when it identified a target - Iraq & Saddam, Afghanistan & the taliban, or Bin Laden. In both cases, assuming we will catch Bin Laden, you can declare victory because you had conditions for winning that could reasonably met. All the while knowing we can’t stop terrorism forever, you wait until the next group emerges - get names, then attack it. etc…. During the in-between, one could prepare troops for investigations, surveillance etc - the same things police depts do while waiting for the next crime, trying to prevent attacks.

    I realize there are problems with this idea and I’m not necessarily advocating it, but it is one method that seems more doable. And more easily sustainable.

    Comment by Eric — Friday, March 12, 2004 @ 10:52 am

  2. Eric,

    I think you missed the most obvious compairson to the Global war on Terror, that being the Cold War. And I think that this would take care of your war metaphor problem.

    In the Cold War we fought an ideological war that combined military, intelligence, law enforcement and citizen actions. And in that war we were able to maintain a �fighting mode� for 45 years. Now during that war there were lulls between military actions and the definable goals were set depending on current context. To the point where Korea, Vietnam, Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Air Drop, actions in South America and in Africa, all must be looked at under the umbrella of the Cold War. Not to mention the massive diplomatic and intelligence efforts, extending all the way into sports (be it baseball or the Olympics.)

    Currently, I believe, actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and any others to come, along with diplomatic and law enforcement actions around the world will have to be viewed under the umbrella of the WOT.

    Here in lies a difference, in this approach declaring a victory in any given action is far from declaring a victory in the War on Terror. I think this is why some people can look at the Mission Accomplished event with Bush and view it in two very different ways.

    I think that the fact we never declared a victory in the Cold War is going to be telling about the WOT.

    Comment by Rob Moates — Friday, March 12, 2004 @ 12:56 pm

  3. Rob,

    You bring up a good point, but given the terminology that’s being tossed around today, it’s not at all clear, to me at least, that this is the kind of “war” we’re running. It appears that this admin is trying to run a more conventional war (at least so far) and use terms to describe it this way.

    There are some problems with the Cold War metaphor as well. The enemy there was a defined state with ideological & territorial ambitions. It’s activities, theoretically, could be halted by changing governments or blowing it up. It’s activities could be monitored with greater ease - read, you could see where it put missiles, took land, etc. It also was easier to villify in the public’s mind - read, you could convince people of the threat by saying Russians are our enemy… The problem with terrorism is that it doesn’t always have a head. Or it has many heads. And when one head is cut off, it grows another…Also, its more difficult to villify something that isn’t a state, or group or individual. Does anyone here in the US think the ETA is relevant? Until yesterday most people probably didn’t know about it. I think i even got the acronymn wrong earlier. And yet that’s terrorism. Should we actively engage the PLO? Most people would say that’s Israel’s business. And yet its terrorism.

    But overall, I agree, it may be a better way to describe the War on Terrorism.

    Comment by Eric — Friday, March 12, 2004 @ 1:40 pm

  4. I’ve actually been wondering for a few months now if we have (God forbid) another attack at home how that would stir the political mix.

    But to your question:

    If al Qeada is blamed for Spain it helps Bush. No brainer.

    If Kerry thinks he can win with, “Bush should have protected Spain too” he is sadly mistaken.

    Comment by Paul — Friday, March 12, 2004 @ 11:42 pm

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