TCS Daily

'Watch With Both Eyes'

By Brian M. Carney - March 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Cliches are just that -- careworn, over-used, sometimes-seductive substitutes for real thought. But we keep them around anyhow for a reason, and the reason is that they sometimes prove useful. And the recent bombings in Madrid, together with the subsequent election results in Spain, seems like just the occasion to trot out an old favorite -- those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The particular episode in history I have in mind is the 1930s in Europe, and the lesson in question is: "Appeasement doesn't work." Make no mistake: Appeasement was the temptation the Socialists offered the electorate on Sunday, and the Spanish voters lapped it up. Monday, Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister-elect, reaffirmed that he would get Spain's troops out of Iraq within three months, and thereby, he and his supporters hope, make an offering to appease the terrorists that killed 200 and wounded over 1,000 in Spain last week.

It won't work. First of all, appeasement never does; it only whets the appetites of those you're attempting to satiate. But what's more, Spain is Al-Andalus as far as al Qaeda is concerned: a portion of the Islamic world that was tragically -- and temporarily -- cut off by the reconquista in 1492.

That's not to say that Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the war wasn't important in the decision to target Spain. Al Qaeda and its ilk would like nothing better than to sow dissent and backbiting among its enemies in the West. Ideally, just as Hitler bought off Stalin for long enough to allow him to focus his attentions westward, al Qaeda would love to see a quiescent and pacific Europe until such time as it is fully prepared to undo the work of Ferdinand and Isabella. And if they have their way, al Qaeda's fanatics won't stop at Tours this time either.

So it would not be surprising in the least to see al Qaeda actively encourage the conventional wisdom among the antiwar left that Thursday's bombings were the price Spain paid for supporting the U.S. in Iraq. That is what they want people to think. Don't believe it; infidels in Paris are every bit as much the enemies of the faith as are infidels in New York or Madrid. It just might take al Qaeda a little bit longer to getting around to dealing with the croissant-eaters, especially as they've been such useful idiots so far.

One of the ironies about history is that our very clarity about past events obscures our ability to correctly judge current ones. It seems so obvious to us now that Hitler was a menace who had to be fought and defeated that we expect to feel the same way about the next Hitler. But that moral certitude is a function of perspective -- we know how things turned out, and that gives us confidence that the Allies did the right thing. When we don't feel the same moral certitude about present events, therefore, we are, as it were, tricked into thinking that the events themselves lack clear moral meaning.

Unfortunately, morality doesn't work that way. Cowardice, greed and fear all work to cloud our moral sense, to tempt us to disbelieve what we know to be right. Thus, when Hitler told the French and the British, apropos of the annexation of the Sudetenland, "We want no Czechs," he didn't so much deceive them as offer them a lie they found it attractive to believe.

The lie that 3/11 was the "price" Spain paid for supporting the Iraq war is just such a lie. And like "We want no Czechs," many in Europe are disposed to believe it because it serves their purposes. It confirms their suspicion, as yet largely unsupported, that terrible things would come out of the Iraq invasion. It gives righteousness to their desire to dissociate themselves from America in the wake of September 11, lest they become the next targets. It gives them an excuse to shrink from the task at hand, which is ending the Islamist terrorist threat. All of those reactions serve Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda very well indeed, and for that reason alone they are suspect.

In his book, "On Moral Fiction," John Gardner recounts the tale of how Odin lost his eye. In a battle to the finish with the Demon King, Odin gets his opponent in a headlock and demands to know the secret to defending Asgard from the Demon King's armies. "Give me your right eye," hissed the demon, "and I'll tell you." Odin did so, whereupon the Demon King gave him his answer -- "Watch with both eyes."

Giving up an eye -- American or Spanish -- will not save Europe now. The only acceptable response to 3/11 in Europe is the American response to 9/11 in New York and Washington -- bringing the fight to the enemy. Based on the results of the Spanish elections and the stream of comments from Prime Minister-elect Zapatero since then, things do not look hopeful.

Mr. Carney is the deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe.


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