TCS Daily

Terror's Grand Design?

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - March 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.

-- Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

The Madrid bombings are an ominous turning point. They have already affected the outcome of an election and they now bid to remove one of the United States' staunchest allies from the front lines of the war against radical Islamic terrorism.

Preliminary evidence that led to the arrest of five suspects shows the possible trademark of an al-Qaeda operation. But if the culprits are not yet known, this well-coordinated attack has made more painfully obvious not just the moral weakness of Europe in the face of a grave threat but also the general weakness of today's nation states in dealing with an extra-national terrorist assault.

Whatever the evil mind or brain trust behind the railroad bombings, it must now take delight in the political impact. Europe quavers, not before Soviet tanks and missiles, but before cell phones and backpacks filled with plastique. The people of Spain were hurt, scared, angered, yes. But now they have gone to the polls and given inestimable encouragement to Islamic terrorists. The Basque separatists must be green with grim envy at whoever planted those bombs. They've been at this for decades, yet never brought down a government.

Coming months may determine how coordinated these various attacks, planned attacks and (one hopes) thwarted attacks really are. It is possible that the bombings in Madrid were the beginning of a new offensive by the Islamic terrorists. Will there now be an effort to peel more allies away from the United States by select and particularly horrific attacks? Great Britain would by a likely target. Poland, too. Italy, maybe. But lay off France and Germany.

That, indeed, would be an insidiously deadly strategy. But it presupposes, I think, more brains and more coordination than the Islamic thugs may have. What some see as a terrorist "grand design" may in fact be nothing more than deep feelings of inferiority and rage glossed with misdirected religious fervor.

It is far from clear that the tall Saudi Arabian millionaire fugitive is pushing the button in all cases. The Madrid attack may be the effect of a runway epidemic of Islamic hatred infecting disparate groups all over the world.

That is why it is more imperative than ever that a vigorous, coordinated international intelligence effort be directed against the Islamic terrorists as part of concerted offensive operations. We are talking more door-kicking all over the world. But that appears now to be a vain hope. In light of Madrid the Europeans may be inclined all the more to act defensively.

Martin Ortega, a fellow of the European Union's Institute for Security Studies, told The New York Times that Europe's reaction to acts like the Madrid bombings will likely be "measures to increase the safety of citizens, to advance on homeland security, [and] to improve ties with the Islamic world."

As TCS contributors have pointed out in past articles, increasing the safety of citizens is ultimately a losing game. Millions if not billions of Euros will be spent, freedom of movement will be further infringed, more places will become essentially off limits and the terrorists will simply exploit new soft targets or wait for someone's guard to be down.

As to improving European ties with the "Islamic world," what and where is the venue? Do they grovel before the mullahs in Tehran? Do they send temporizing Eurocrats with white flags out to Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever they think "He" might be so they can sit on rugs and chat? Do they bone up on the Koran and be a little more vigorous about glad-handing their way through the diplomats' lounge at the United Nations?

Candidate John Kerry has made some rattlings along these lines, meanwhile bragging that he has met some "foreign leaders" who would like to see him in the White House, where he could implement a "new policy."


Kerry would do well to remember the words of someone who actually made it to the White House. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in one of his famous "fireside chats" to the American people over the radio in 1940 said, "There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb."

Now the lines are drawn. Now the price of siding with "Cowboy" Bush is known. The people of Spain don't want to pay it. Instead they appear ready to cough up their Danegeld to the terrorists.

Perhaps the new government will come to its senses and see this global war in better perspective. But right now it looks as if those Spanish troops killed in Iraq will have died for nothing, that a battle was lost in the Atocha train station, and that when history looks back on the epic struggle against Islamic terror, Spain will be remembered for taking French leave.


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