Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Several European allies of the United States affirmed on Monday their determination to keep forces in Iraq despite last week's terror bombings in Madrid and Sunday's surprise election of a Spanish government bent on pulling out its own troops.

The declarations were made in response to the victory of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, which unseated a government that was a staunch ally of Washington. Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq by the end of June if the United Nations does not take over peacekeeping.

Spain is set to join France and Germany, once dismissed by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as "old Europe," in opposing military involvement in Iraq. "Old Europe has been fortified. It is a lesson for the United States. The coalition is not permanent," said Stefano Silvestrini, an analyst for the International Affairs Institute here.

Nonetheless, Spain's defection does not seem to be causing a rush to the exits. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been at odds with opposition groups about the military involvement in Iraq, pledged to keep the country's 2,300 soldiers there.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw disputed any suggestion that countries allied with the United States were more likely to be attacked by terrorists than countries without troops in Iraq. ...

Polish officials said they would keep the country's 2,400 peacekeeping troops in Iraq. "Revising our position on Iraq after terrorist attacks would be to admit that terrorists are stronger and they are right," Prime Minister Leszek Miller said at a news conference in the Polish town of Tarnow, according to news services.

Poland currently commands 10,000 multinational troops in south-central Iraq. Spain was due to take over the command in July, but that schedule is now in doubt. "If it is necessary, we will continue leading the multinational division. We are prepared to do that even if Spain is not able to fulfill its promise," Poland's ambassador to NATO, Jerzy Nowak, said in Brussels.

In the Netherlands, the government said that its small contingent would remain.
There is an astonishing amount of discussion on the internet over Spain's election and subsequent announcement of its intent to withdraw the their troops from Iraq.

And I disagree with Citizen Smash's assertion that
Reactions to this news from outside of Spain have been varied. Some have claimed that it demonstrates how vulnerable Blair and even Bush may be to voter backlash over Iraq. Others have accused the Spanish of knuckling under to terrorists.

These latter reactions are wholly inappropriate. Spain is not America, but it is an ally, and a representative democracy. It is not our place to criticize whom our allies select to be their leaders, so long as the elections are free and fair, and democracy is not undermined. The people of Spain have spoken, and the rest of us must respect their decision.
Let me make it clear up front that I respect Citizen Smash for his service and for his well thought-out positions. But in this case I believe he is wrong.

Representative democracies are established precisely on the premise that elected leaders are given license to make decisions that are "best" or, if you will "right". If we want it to be otherwise, in the days of instant communications, we could experiment with Direct Democracies.

It is among the roles of leadership in a Representative Democracy to make decisions of vision, to be smarter on the big picture than the average voter himself. In short, the elected leaders must take on the role of the grown-up. A role of the elected leader is to see that freedom loving nations "eat their vegetables".

I respect the right of Spain's people to elect whom they will. But there is no expectation of universal support of the actual decision they have made, as Citizen Smash insists there is.

In my view the Spanish population followed the lead of the German population, who, you recall, in a stunning turnaround, reelected the "unre-electable" Schroeder on the basis of his anti-war stance.

Yes...war is an awful thing in its conduct. But it is an instrument of foreign policy for which there is no substitute. Few among us...including most wearing military uniforms...would choose to go to war. That is why leader's must make the hard decisions, when such decisions are necessary.

President Bush made the decision it was necessary based upon the information available at the time. Some 49 countries signed on to agree with him. That is leadership. Leadership sometime means taking people where they do not wish to go. Leadership is not required to persuade people to do what makes them feel good. That they will do anyway.

CPT Patti's father, a minister by trade, speaks of the Christian concept of "loving the sinner but hating the sin". Similarly we must support democracy without supporting poor decision making under the framework of democracy. The Spanish have made a poor decision.

As I've argued before, the war on terror represents a universal threat that can not be evaluated strictly upon the basis of a country's "national interests". The threat of terror transcends any given state...and its response must also.

The upset victory in the Spanish elections, coming mere days after the bombing for which Al Qaeda has taken credit cannot help but create a cause/effect impression on the terrorists. Hence, we can expect to see this same tactic used in future elections of coalition partners, perhaps even US Elections themselves. Thus, Spanish actions have elevated the risk level to other countries. Their response has implications beyond Spain's national interests.

Thus, while respecting their right to elect their own leader, I believe they have made a collosal mistake, sending the message to terrorists that they, the population at large, can be cowed. Statesmen like to say "we do not negotiate with terrorists". In this case the terrorists decided to see if they could "negotiate" with the electorate, and found out they could.

And that does not bode well for the rest of the world.

Finally, while not wishing to send this discussion on a tangent...let me say this. The new Spanish PM proved within 24 hours that as a statesman he is a rookie. He won the election. He did not need to shore up his position at that point. But, instead of working behind the scenes with Spains allies to find a way to elegantly pull out of Iraq without damaging the coalition and its efforts, he rushed to the microphone to announce the intent to withdraw.

Statesmen do not do that to allies.

Now...to put this in perspective...Spain has 1300 soldiers in Iraq. We have nearly one-hundred times that many. My point: Spain's contribution, while important, is more symbolic than it is militarily significant. The military effect of Spain's withdrawal can be compensated for and ameliorated between now and the time it happens. The withdrawal of Spain's symbolic contribution has already happened...and is a victory for the terrorists.

The Spanish have let the world down.

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