[COUNTERPOINT]Terror vs. democracy in Spain

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[COUNTERPOINT]Terror vs. democracy in Spain

In a few weeks, Spain will have a new government. For a better understanding of the results of the recent elections, and the prospects facing the new Spanish government in terms of anti-terrorism efforts and international cooperation through enhanced multilateralism, here are a few facts.
Shortly after the March 11 bombings that killed 200 innocent rail commuters and injured hundreds more in and around Madrid, the Spanish government announced that the perpetrators were members of the Basque terrorist group ETA. It might have made sense: ETA has killed almost 900 Spaniards in the last three decades.
Spain understands terrorism, and has never stopped opposing it, fighting it, or alerting the world to its dangers. The day after the bombings, 11 million people filled the streets of Spain’s major cities, displaying the banners and hand-written slogans seen after every terrorist attack by ETA: “Enough!” “No more victims!” “You will not win!”
Those crowds demonstrated to oppose terrorism, any kind of terrorism, not to support the authorities. When the war in Iraq was launched, many of the same people were in the streets to oppose it. These Spanish voters certainly had not become scared flocks of sheep three days later, when they cast their ballots. Polls before the election showed that 90 percent of voters had made their choice before the March 11 attacks.
Still, many commentators have charged the voters with appeasing terrorists. But asked about the real winners of the Spanish election, U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell said: “the Spanish Socialists.” The U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, Elisabeth Jones, considered it “absolutely wrong” to believe that Al Qaeda had won the elections. The Spanish people, she said, “exerted their democratic rights.”
Both the winner, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and the loser, Jose Maria Aznar, also agreed: The terrorist attack did not decide the election. As in any solid democracy, voters judged the performance of their government and on this occasion gave support in huge numbers (almost 11 million votes) to the opposition Socialists. For once, apparently, the foreign policy of the ruling party seems to have been a relevant component in the decision of many voters.
Did people forget their wallets and vote only with their hearts? Maybe not. After all, the Socialist Party governed Spain between 1982 and 1996 and should be credited with a successful effort to modernize and strengthen the country’s economy.
So, Spain now has a new democratic government. Remember: voter turnout was more than 70 percent, almost 7 percent higher than in previous elections. This was a direct result of the March 11 attack, according to many analysts.
The new government now may take Spanish troops out of Iraq. Is that solidarity in the fight against terrorism? Let’s get a bit closer to the real picture:
The Socialist Party has opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and its position is laid out in its electoral program: Don’t go to war to solve problems that might be best handled by the international community through peaceful and no-less-efficient means. Don’t launch a large-scale military operation to eliminate a danger whose existence has not been convincingly proved. Moreover, it is wrong to believe that because of the war terrorism will be weakened and Iraq will be closer to a real democracy capable of harmonizing its aspirations and the deep divisions separating its ethnic and religious groups.
Those were admonitions shared by a large majority of Spanish citizens (and thus, voters). The logical conclusion had to be that Spain should not have gone into Iraq to endorse, and assume a share in, those mistakes and responsibilities. Therefore, either the United Nations takes command of the operation ― both the institution-building and military operations needed to stabilize the internal situation ― or Spain’s soldiers will return home.
The final result may be disagreeable to some, but its logic is unassailable and, more importantly, it reflects the will of the majority of Spanish citizens.
Are they wrong? That question is completely alien to the core issue, which is democracy. There must be some political logic in the position of the new Spanish authorities, since Washington and London have declared themselves ready to work in favor of a new UN Security Council resolution. And it is why U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz smartly observed, “We will have to give reasons for the Spaniards to remain” in Iraq.
But perhaps a question still arises about whether Spain’s government will continue on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. Anyone doubting that should remember that there is a terrorist organization in Spain which reiterated, after March 11, that it has not renounced killing people with guns and bombs. The Socialist Party did not hesitate to sign, along with the government led by Mr. Aznar, an anti-terrorist pact in 2000. When in power, the Socialists promoted joint measures in Europe to fight terrorism, measures pursued by the next two governments of the right-of-center Popular Party.
Spanish soldiers will leave Iraq if the international community does not reach an agreement on transfering leadership to the United Nations. But Spanish soldiers will remain in Afghanistan, and in other crisis spots where security and stability are not possible without foreign assistance. Spanish public opinion has never been against such a role, or taking such responsibility, despite the cost of the lives of dozens of soldiers and intelligence officers.
The new Spanish government will certainly be shaped by the spirit of a unified Europe, but what of the alliance between Spain and the United States? It is sound and solid, and will certainly survive divergences and disagreements.
A recent meeting in Madrid between Mr. Zapatero and Mr. Powell proved that both sides share the will to remain strong allies. Spain and the United States will continue to fight terrorism hand in hand with most other countries.
This is democracy at work, and far from blackmail and demagogy.

* The writer is the Spanish ambassador to Korea.

by Enrique Panes
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