TCS Daily


Puppet States

By Lee Harris - March 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Looking back on the stunning catastrophe of the Spanish election, the one thing that no one can say is, "If only Spain had been a democracy." Spain was a democracy -- the kind of democracy that we can only dream of establishing in Iraq or in other countries of the Middle East, and yet, when given the choice between standing by civilization or giving in to the demands of its enemies, Spanish democracy did not hesitate for a moment. It rallied to the side of anti-civilization.

Democracy did not save Spain. On the contrary, it was the instrument by which the terrorists got Spain to do their will, so much so that, in the aftermath of Sunday's election, the rest of the civilized world has the right to ask, "Who really rules Spain now?" Is it the Spanish people, or a small clique of dedicated terrorists?

If this question seems exaggerated to you, consider the following thought experiment.

Suppose that last week's attack had not been the work of terrorists, but the work of the United States. Suppose American jets had flown over Madrid on Thursday morning and dropped a scattering of bombs on the commuter trains, killing and maiming the exact same people who were killed and maimed in the terrorist's attack. Suppose, further, that President Bush had subsequently announced that Spain would be subjected to further attacks if the Spanish voters did not vote as he wished them to vote.

Had the Spanish people docilely obeyed such a brutal command, and voted as the United States bid them vote, the world would be left in no doubt who really ruled Spain. The election would have clearly been understood as an act of collective capitulation and an abject abandonment of all claims to national sovereignty. Henceforth Spain, with good reason, would have been looked upon as a puppet state of the USA -- in the exact same way that Soviet tanks in the streets of Prague in 1967 proved to the world who really ruled the Democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia.

If a foreign agent is permitted to interfere at will with the internal affairs of a nation, then that nation no longer possesses national sovereignty -- a fact that can be immediately grasped in those cases when the foreign agent is another nation state, as in the case of the USSR and its satellites during the Cold War.

But, strangely enough, the exact same abdication of national sovereignty is no longer obvious where the foreign agent that does the interfering is not a nation state, but a shadowy international terrorist organization. Yet wherein lies the difference?

In 1967, the doomed Czechs fought heroically to reclaim their national sovereignty from the USSR, a nation vastly superior in its military capacity. In 2004, the Spanish people did not need to confront Al Qaeda tanks in the streets of Madrid, nor to man the barricades in order to fight for their national sovereignty -- all they had to do was to go to the polls and cast a vote for the party that had pledged not to give in to the terrorists.

What could be simpler?

Instead, the Spanish people went to the polls, and in a single day, they dramatically changed the nature of the world we live in, and all that the rest of us could do about it was to stand by and helplessly watch it happen. Of what use is the most hard-fought war on terror if the terrorists only need the ballet box in order to triumph? What good are armies and spies and intelligence networks if the terrorists can get what they want through free and democratic elections?

The Spanish people elected to blame the massive act of terror on the USA, and not on the men who murdered their fellow citizens. They elected to abandon their own national dignity, in order to appease fanaticism. They elected to turn their democracy into a tool of terrorism. In sum, they cast their vote for the forces of anti-civilization, and in doing so handed these forces their greatest and easiest triumph since Hitler ordered the German army to occupy the Rhineland in 1935, at the cost of not a single life.

The Spanish election is a genie that once out of its bottle cannot be lured back in. From now on, there will be only one way to insure terror-free elections in any European country, and that is if all parties agree beforehand to adopt no policy that the terrorists could possibly find objectionable. Even worse, any party that fails to follow the terrorists' party line will find itself under domestic attack for endangering the lives of innocent men, women, and children -- and for good reason. Such political conduct will be endangering the lives of innocent people -- because the terrorists will make damn sure of it.

The question that now faces us, "Who really rules Spain?" will soon be asked of all of Europe if Madrid becomes the pattern of future terrorist strikes, in which case those who think that parliamentary democracy is the cure for terrorism will have to face the dismal historical record of parliamentary democracy when faced with a handful of dedicated and ruthless fanatics determine to subvert it to their own ends.

The post-WWII success of parliamentary democracy in Europe was an illusion that depended upon the peace and stability that the Pax Americana brought to that region of the world. But once the Pax Americana is shattered, the illusion will come to an end; and European politics will rapidly become the plaything of terrorist sects bent on forcing democracies to do their will, until the point is inevitably reached when democracy will no longer be an option in Europe.

Americans must grasp the full implications of the Spanish election. Democracy did not save Spain, and it will not save civilization. Instead, as Sunday's election in Spain showed with blinding clarity, democracy, like Jumbo jets and box-cutters, can be used by the enemies of civilization to achieve their objectives -- one of which is to discredit parliamentary democracy for the ease with which wicked men can twist it to their will.

Democracy will not save us from terrorism; democracy is rather one of the many infinitely precious things that must itself be saved from terrorism. Americans who are willing to die to bring democracy to people who lack it, must ask themselves after last Sunday what is the point of their immense sacrifice if a democracy like Spain's can be so easily intimidated by an act of catastrophic terror into betraying the cause of civilization, and rallying to the side of its enemies?

These are not pleasant questions to contemplate; and that is all the more reason we must steel ourselves to contemplate them. The world changed on Sunday, and we owe it to future generations to recognize this bitter truth as quickly as possible.

Lee Harris last wrote for TCS about how the Madrid bombings might influence the Spanish elections. His book Civilization and Its Enemies is now out from Free Press.


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