Reflection on Spain and Al Qaeda
The New York Times has two very good op-eds about the implication of the 3/11 bonbings and subsequent Spanish elections. Edward Luttwak shows it’s possible to simultaneously disagree with the war in Iraq and disagree with the Spanish socialists: Even those who view the Iraq war as a strategic error for the United States — ...
The New York Times has two very good op-eds about the implication of the 3/11 bonbings and subsequent Spanish elections. Edward Luttwak shows it's possible to simultaneously disagree with the war in Iraq and disagree with the Spanish socialists:
The New York Times has two very good op-eds about the implication of the 3/11 bonbings and subsequent Spanish elections. Edward Luttwak shows it’s possible to simultaneously disagree with the war in Iraq and disagree with the Spanish socialists:
Even those who view the Iraq war as a strategic error for the United States — and I’m one of them — cannot take seriously the Zapateros of Europe, who seem bent on validating the crudest caricatures of “old European” cowardly decadence. It was an act of colossal irresponsibility for the Socialists and the Spanish news media to excoriate the Aznar government for asserting that ETA, the Basque separatist movement, was probably behind the attacks. Were the Socialists certain Al Qaeda was involved? No, but saying so made it easier to convince voters that the bombs had been placed by Muslims angry that Spain had sided with the United States in the war — and that the only way to make things right would be to get out of Iraq. Whatever their motivation, the Socialists’ argument was fundamentally flawed. Osama bin Laden and other Islamists had identified Spain as a priority target years before the Iraq war. Under Muslim law, no land conquered by Islam may legitimately come under non-Muslim rule. For the fanatics, Spain is still Al Andalus of the Middle Ages, which must be re-claimed for Islam by immigration and intimidation. Even if the bombs were placed by Islamists, the idea that Spain was attacked solely because of Mr. Aznar’s support for the Iraq war is simply wrong.
This was Fareed Zakaria’s point in the Sunday Washington Post as well (link via Virginia Postrel):
Some in Spain have argued that if an Islamic group proves to be the culprit, Spaniards will blame Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. It was his support for America and the war in Iraq that invited the wrath of the fundamentalists. But other recent targets of Islamic militants have been Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, not one of which supported the war or sent troops into Iraq in the after-war. Al Qaeda’s declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone — yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.
Meanwhile, Scott Atran picks up on the evolution of the relationship between Al Qaeda and local terrorist groups in the other op-ed. The highlights:
While most Westerners have imagined a tightly coordinated transnational terrorist network headed by Al Qaeda, it seems more likely we face a set of largely autonomous groups and cells pursuing their own regional aims. Yes, some groups — from Ansar al-Islam in Iraq to Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia to Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Muhammed — seem to be coordinating strategy and perhaps tactical operations among themselves. But for the most part the factions are swarming on their own initiative — homing in from scattered locations on various targets and then dispersing, only to form new swarms. While these groups share the motivations and methods of Al Qaeda, it is likely they have had only distant relations with Osama bin Laden and the Sunni salafists around him. In fact, Mr. bin Laden and the Qaeda hardcore should perhaps be viewed as they were in the 1990’s, as just one hub of a loosely knit global network of mujahedeen leaders left over from the Soviet-Afghan war. It was only after the F.B.I. began investigating the 1998 American Embassy bombings in Africa that American prosecutors — and the rest of the world — began referring to Al Qaeda as a global terrorist organization. We may be overestimating Mr. bin Laden’s reach. The suicide bombings last November in Istanbul are a case in point. Turkish officials immediately attributed the bombings to Al Qaeda, although it quickly became clear that the explosives were probably made and detonated by Turkish groups claiming to represent Al Qaeda’s aims. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s greatest threat may be that simply by claiming to act in his name, regional groups are better able to recruit and coordinate operations.
This makes sense. Terrorist attacks conducted by Al Qaeda proper have usually been targeted at highly symbolic targets — luxury hotels, embassies, the Pentagon, the WTC, etc. They’re not averse to killing large numbers of civilians, but they prefer doing it while destroying important symbols of political, economic and military power. The Madrid bombing was not like that — hence, it’s likely that the operation, while perhaps sponsored by AQ, was not implemented by them. UPDATE: This commentor makes a good point: “I wonder if what’s happened is that AQ or its franchisees have moved from targeting physical symbols such as hotels and embassies to also targeting more nebulous symbols, such as the elections themselves.”
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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