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A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Thursday, March 18, 2004
COMMON SENSE, APPEASEMENT, AND MATTERS OF FAITH I have been following the intense sense of betrayal in this country following the fallout of the Spanish election.

In less rational terms, this or this or this appears to cover quite some territory. Richard Pearle added his two cents worth on NPR this morning flaying the Spanish alive for their inability to stick with the program. Friedman seems to have completely "spat the dummy."

In its rational form, Asymmetrical Information argues that:

"It doesn't matter what the Spanish voters were thinking when they threw the PP out, because Al-Qaeda is going to interpret the results in the way most favourable to itself, especially in the fundraising and recruiting drives that will be key to staging more results."

An alternative formulation put forward by Mike argues:

"At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, we are seeing a contest between those who would pursue the war on terror, and those who would withdrawal from it. The appeasers appear to have won."

"Spain will have bought itself another decade of violent harassment from Muslim extremists. I expect that we will soon hear demands from the terrorists that those arrested for the blasts be released, and why not? This sort of extortion is clearly effective, so it will be employed over and over again. This is what happens when you are weak, and you refuse to fight back."


In essence, terrorism is a winner, given the impact that events subsequently had, independent of the Spanish electorate's reaction.

I respectfully disagree with these arguments, especially the appeasement tag. What the Spanish voters were thinking is VERY important. I am not even sure that the fact that there was a big reaction against being lied to by the Government really changes this. The Socialists wanted out of Iraq, a deeply unpopular issue with the Spanish populace.

Critics of the Spanish electorate want to focus on one part of what is a two player game. There are two players in this game--the terrorists and the nation they attempt to terrorize. If one accepts the argument that Spain decided to withdraw from Iraq so as to focus its resources on the War On Terror (WOT), then this results in a different outcome to the one where Spain is painted as a bunch of Yellow French Surrender Monkeys (YFSM).

An equivalent change would be if this country spent $200 billion on homeland defense rather than on invading Iraq. (At the moment, we are not spending enogh on homeland secrity as TNR has been arguing quite convincingly this week). We could, of course, call Americans in that case "cowards" or YFSMs for making that choice of focusing on S domestic needs. Or we could argue that by strengthening domestic intelligence and security this country and its populace in fact change the game that America would be playing with terrorists. If Spain redoubles its efforts to engage terrorism more vigourously (more coordination and resources), one could argue that rather than provide an incentive to hit Spain more, it actually lowers the incentive to hit Spain (chance of success is low and chance of well targeted retailiation higher). This appears to be the Spanish strategy right now--change the game payoff structure.

For those who feel that Spain's actions are appeasement, the question that must be raised is the following: Why is Spain (and Germany for that matter) still in Afghanistan? There was clear cut evidence that Al-Qaeda had state level support in Afghanistan. I think this matters. Such evidence was not brought forward to support the Iraq war, and this is the main reason this war is so deeply unpopular in Europe, and becoming more so in this one. If the attack on Iraq had been sold from the start--as Friedman puts it so eloquently--"to depose the genocidal Saddam regime in order to partner with the Iraqi people to build a decent government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — because it is the pathologies and humiliations produced by Arab misgovernance that are the root causes of terrorism and Muslim extremism" we would not be having this debate. Either we would be in there "under the right circumstances" with public support or we wouldn't have gone in.

What I think this argument about the Spanish YFSMs hinges on: if you believe that the Iraq invasion was not a vital gog in the WOT, the Spanish position and withdrawal makes a lot of sense. If you hold that Iraq is a vital--most vital?-- part of the WOT (if we fail here, we fail anywhere and everywhere...) than the Spanish are gutless wonders whose desertion makes America's task that much harder to keep the world safe.

I wonder if it is getting to the point where this "argument" (the necessity for invading iraq as part of the WOT) is becoming a matter of faith rather than something that can be argued through reason.

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