It works! Terrorism, that is. When applied in the right place.
And the implications of the Madrid train bombing are enormous. Rather than vent their anger in the direction of terror, the Spanish electorate ousted their own conservative government in favor of socialists who promise a more benign attitude toward terror! For starters, the removal of the token force of 1,300 Spanish forces sent in as an earnest of support for the Bush administration's preemption in Iraq.
Before the bombings, opinion polls had indicated a comfortable margin of support for the conservative Popular Party of prime minister Aznar. The carnage had hardly cleared when opinion swung to the Socialists and leader Zapatero, who promised to get the 1,300 out of Iraq pronto and make nice to France and Germany and other Europeans who had opposed the Iraq adventure. Aznar didn't help matters by suggesting early on that the bombings were the work of the long-irredentist Basques up north, a logical assumption given their record, but suspicious because of the level of undirected violence. The latest evidence, arrest of three Moroccans and two Indians, swings the arrow of suspicion in the direction of al Qaeda, or like-minded supporters. But Aznar's support of the American action and his inability to finger suspects immediately were sufficient to do him in.
Ambivalence as to terrorist pedigrees confuses the media with its insistence on unqualified simplicity. That the ETA might participate with or encourage an al Qaeda loyalist group which is not directly subservient to Osama is simply too much to get its intellectual flippers around. But the other aspect is simple: Bush has lost big here. Suddenly, the Spaniards were a "U.S. War Ally," to quote the Washington Post headline. A "strong ally," in NBC's vernacular. And the New York Times' lead says the Aznar defeat is the "first electoral rebuke of one of President Bush's allies in the Iraq war."
"The first" indicates of course there will be many more. You listening, Mr. Blair? Not Jayson. Tony.
Before the glee becomes unbridled, let's consider the grimmer implications. If bombing a train station can have such seismic political effect in Spain on election eve, what might a terror strike of even moderate force have this election year in the United States?
More especially, what might terrorist groups suppose it might have? This is a legacy of the Spanish succession that challenges the mind. A serious student of the American psyche would not fall into that trap, knowing that it is the American trait of retaliation for injury that is President Bush's primary pillar of support. Another version, even faint, of 9/11, and God only knows the mythic proportion of America's taste for revenge. This is not Spain, which once bestrode the world a goliath but whose hegemonic impulses are now reduced to the production of pretty fair golfers.
There are those in America who would, like Zapatero, remove from Iraq. "I say 'pull out now,'" said one recently. "And leave a note: 'no nukes, or you'll get one of ours.' And then stand off like Little Black Sambo, and watch 'em churn themselves to butter." Ah, but this is not nation building, is it? Just a primary impulse which the better angels of our nature now and then must squelch.
So, one less plate in the mess hall at the ranch. Another victory for terror, among those susceptible to it.
Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.