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Lurking in a cave somewhere near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Osama bin Laden is cackling. If he’s still alive that is. For the specter of Munich has cast its ugly pall over Europe once again — and, for the time being at least, the anti-liberal forces of totalitarian terror have won.

The details are well known by now. Three days before national elections, Islamist terrorists murdered 190 railway commuters in Madrid. Heading into the election with a recognizable lead, the People’s Party of Jose Maria Aznar was defeated by the anti-war Socialists of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Throughout the campaign, Zapatero stated that he would remove Spain’s 1,300 peacekeeping troops from Iraq unless the United Nations assumed control, a commitment he reiterated following his election victory. Indeed, no one can dispute that Aznar’s deception (misleading his people into believing that the crime was committed by the Basque ETA) was foolish. But by failing to look beyond the People’s Party’s electioneering (this was, after all, an election) and bestowing a victory upon the Socialists, Spaniards played right into al Qaeda’s hands.

It is not inappropriate to critique the resolve of a nation under duress; there are numerous historical instances that indicate alternative ways of responding to adversity. No better example comes to mind than that of the British people during the Luftwaffe’s air raid of England, lasting from September 1940 until May of 1941. Ultimately 40,000 civilians were killed, yet wartime leader Winston Churchill was cheered wherever he traveled, not heckled at “for getting us into this mess.” When this nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001 (an assault that was far more devastating, in every imaginable respect, than the Madrid bombings), we did not curl up and vote Socialist. We took the war to the enemy, locating and dismantling terrorist enclaves in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan.

Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of the war in Iraq, but to argue in favor of unilaterally withdrawing peacekeeping troops in a time of relative chaos is obtuse. The Spanish military was not even involved in combat operations; they have only recently joined in the post-war rebuilding effort. And this is a crucial point. It was not just the war against Saddam that the Islamists condemn. More threatening to them is our effort to build a vibrant, constitutional democracy in the center of the Arab world. A liberal society stands in contrast to everything that the Islamists espouse. By supporting a political party pledged to a policy that could lead to unmitigated disaster for Iraq, the Spanish people have struck a cruel blow to Iraqis.

More than anything, the Islamist attack on Spain belies the argument that eliminating Ba’athist tyranny had nothing to do with the greater war on terror. Anti-war advocates continually scoff at the notion that Saddam Hussein was connected in any way whatsoever with international terrorism. “Osama is religious and Saddam is secular,” they would authoritatively state. Well, I could just as simply respond that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but let’s take the argument further. Why, pray tell, would an Islamic terrorist cell strike a country party to the wartime coalition if the Islamists had no connection to or interests with the regime that the coalition removed from power?

In making the case against the war, one can raise concerns about what appears to be a lack of weapons of mass destruction (though certainly no lack of programs to develop such weapons) or the administration’s lack of commitment to postwar rebuilding. But to argue that we should not have gone to war against Iraq because it would have angered Islamists is the most feckless reasoning imaginable.

But it is wrong, as some conservative commentators have accused, to claim that Spain’s response to the March 11 attack will encourage attacks on other free nations. For it has always been the terrorists’ agenda to attack free nations, only the West’s response is debatable. The Islamists who declared war on the West over 20 years ago have demonstrated, time and again, their nihilistic aptitude. What would President Zapatero have ordered us to do following the destruction of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983? What would his counsel have been after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, or the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, or after two American embassies were destroyed in 1998? Zapatero’s pledge to send more Spanish troops to Afghanistan underscores the silly logic that Spain brought Islamist terror upon itself. Does the Prime Minister not realize that this decision makes Spain, and every other nation with troops in Afghanistan, just as susceptible to terrorist attack as maintaining troops in Iraq? To the Islamists, it makes no difference if a Western state has troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq or both. They’re all part of the “Crusader-Zionist Alliance” in the end.

Soon after accepting his victory, Zapatero proclaimed, “Fighting terrorism with bombs and Tomahawk missiles is not a way to win, but will instead provoke more extremism. Terrorism is fought with the rule of law, international law, and with intelligence services.” The chief of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, echoed this legalistic sentiment, “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists.” These gentlemen have every right to their opinions regarding how best to fight militant Islam, but what makes Zapatero’s bold pronouncement to withdraw his troops any less “unilateral” or “arrogant” than anything President Bush has done? Let Spain, France and Germany pursue the terrorists with their legal codes and international treaties, provided al Qaeda does not blow up the courthouse first.

James Kirchick is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.