CNNInternational interview with Nigeria'sPresident Obasanjo and Publisher Chido Nwangwu onDemocracyand Security Issues

Spain, Terrorism andanti-democratic balderdash

Exclusive commentary for USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston

March 27, 2004:
New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman,amused me a few days ago with his take on Spain's election which washeld just days after a terrorist attack on a Madrid passenger train.Friedman's essay in the March 25, 2004 issue of The New York Times'No Vote for Al Qaeda.' He wrote " "There is nothing more importantfor the future of Western democracies than the question of whether,in the wake of the Madrid bombings, the new Spanish government willgo ahead with its plan to withdraw Spanish forc
esfrom Iraq &emdash; unless the U.N. assumes control of the occupationforces there by June 30. If Spain goes ahead, every terrorist in theworld will celebrate, and every democracy will be a little moreendangered.... What the Madrid bombings, just before the Spanishelections, represent is the Islamist terrorists' first attempt tohijack a democratic election in Western Europe."

The attack on Madrid killed 202 persons, sofar. Almost 1000 people sustained injuries. The election ended theconservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar andbrought the Socialist Party, led by Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, topower.

The defeat of Jose Aznar's party in the election has been attributedto the Spanish people's disdain for America invading Iraq, the war onterror, and their fear of extremist Islamist groups. Only fewcommentators acknowledge that the Spanish people used the ballotboxes to show their disgust for a government that lied to them aboutwho carried out terror attacks on them. The same government alsochose to send troops to Iraq, even when more than 80% of thepopulation opposed it.

The result of the March 14th election in Spain is a tribute todemocracy. After all, democracy and elections should be about thewill of the people-the majority. The Aznar government went againstthe will of the Spanish people and paid for it at the polls. I willnot argue that the Madrid train bombing was just a mere coincidence.One can safely say that the terrorist attack made the people furiousenough to lose their complacency about Aznar and his government.

Jose Zapatero, the new Prime Minister, has vowed to withdraw the onethousand, three hundred Spanish troops in Iraq by June 30th if theUnited Nations does not take charge of the occupation forces in Iraq.The Bush Administration is pressuring the Prime Minister to rescindthat decision. It is ironic that the Bush Administration has chosenthis particular time to ask the government to change its position.This was the main thrust of the Socialist Party's electioncampaign-the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. Why did the BushAdministration not make its requests before the elections?

Do election promises mean anything to George Bush and his crowd? Theanswer to this question must be 'no' as he has kept very few of hisown election campaign promises. Apparently he expects the same ofJose Zapatero. But Zapatero should know better. He came to power onthe wave of the Spanish people's anger.   

Friedman seems to think that Zapatero's victory threatens Westerndemocracy. As far as Friedman is concerned, Zapatero's promise to hispeople, if fulfilled, would negatively impact Western democracy. Why?"If Spain goes ahead, every terrorist in the world will celebrate,and every democracy will be a little more endangered," positsFriedman. According to the Friedman doctrine, any position that iscounter to the American government's position in Iraq is a give-in tothe terrorists. Maybe Thomas Friedman would have wanted the Spanishpeople to retain the Aznar government for fear of appearing weak tothe terrorists.

Friedman's argument is anti-democratic and balderdash. The UnitedStates led by George W. Bush went to war despite opposition from mostcountries and peoples of the world. George Bush pooh-poohed worldopinion and the United Nations in a single-minded pursuit ofso-called American interest. The President asserted that SaddamHussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was considered athreat to the United States, and indeed, to the Western world. As itturns out, he was wrong.

For this mistake, which by the way the President has yet to admit,hundreds of American service men and women have been killed.Thousands of Iraqi's have been slaughtered; their homes, lives andlivelihoods destroyed. Billions of dollars have been spent and therereally is no end in sight to the spending and loss of lives. TheAmerican economy, no matter what Bush says, is in tatters. Thedeficit is the largest in the history of America. Millions of jobshave been lost and lines at soup kitchens grow longer. Yet, Bush andhis administration don't know how to get out of it. Given thequagmire that Iraq has become, maybe America should not get out ofIraq now.

But why shouldn't Spain? So that Osama bin Laden and his goons wouldnot pop champagne bottles in celebration? Silly. The new governmentin Spain is doing what it thinks is best for its people. How canAmerica have problems with that? How does it threaten democracy inthe Western world? Would the United States stay a day longer in Iraqjust to appease Spain or protect the Spanish national interests?

Friedman and commentators like him have the mindset that Americannational interests must be good for the world. They also believe thatwhen it comes to terrorism, America has all the answers. This kind ofthinking is wrong. It presents a simplistic view of the world. Itvalidates the terrorist assertion that America views itself as animperial power and therefore throws its weight around.

I do not believe that Western democracy is as fragile as Friedmanpurports it to be. As for fear of terrorists having an effect onelections, terrible though it may sound, maybe we should accept it asone of the dynamics of democracy. Some might even argue that Mr.Friedman's fears came too late. Did he express these fears when Pres.Bush soared from approval ratings of 51% on September 10 to 86% a fewdays after the terrible terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001?

Terrorism is a scourge that has spread all over the world. No countryor government is immune to terrorism's effect. While we can positthat the various global and regional organizations like UN, EU,ECOWAS, OAS, AU should articulate general policies on how to dealwith this problem, countries must device their own strategies forstamping out or curtailing the spread of terrorism within theirborders. It is juvenile to think that one country's solution, must,out of necessity, be adequate for other countries.

Also, the real defeat of the human spirit would occur if there camesuch a time when individual countries stopped looking out for theirown interests, and instead, became beholden to another country'swhims. The world lives in enough fear without adding the collectiveloss of sovereignty of countries to it. If it is in the nationalinterest of Spain to withdraw from Iraq, it must do so without beingaccused of appeasing terrorists. Democracy, after all, is about thewill of the people-the majority. I hope America has notforgotten.
Elenduis a contributing editor of and writes every Friday, exclusively for He isPresident and CEO of Elendu & Associates, Lansing-based PRfirm.

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