Did Islamic terrorism win the Spanish election? If you support the Iraq war and don't turn apoplectic when hearing the word Bush, you will nod vigorously and reach for your Spanish dictionary to look up appeasement. But if you hate both the war and the Bushies, you will argue thus: "A vast majority of Spaniards have always opposed their country's entanglement in Iraq. The vote merely expressed the will of the people." But this is a moot debate. Look at the issue from the terrorists' perspective. Having timed the bloodbath for the election, they scored beyond their wildest expectations. Spain is no longer ruled by a pro-U.S. government, and a pillar of the Iraq coalition has collapsed. On the first anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, every European government is on notice. The message: Distance yourself from the Great Satan--or else. We are back in business, and we can strike in the heart of Europe.
Not bad for a single day of mass murder. Is there an upside? You might comfort yourself by drawing a line between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. That is what the incoming Spanish government has done. Though it is apparently set on withdrawing from Iraq, it will not bolt from the antiterrorism coalition. But the terrorists don't accept that distinction. For them, the key battlefield is Iraq. The thrust of their strategy is to break up the U.S.-led coalition. They live by a simple maxim: "The worse, the better."
That strategy was foreshadowed by the multiple attacks on Iraqi Shi'ites a few weeks ago. The terrorists hoped to set off civil war among the Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis. The good news is that the Shi'ites did not choose to launch a spasm of counterviolence but instead signed the draft interim Iraqi constitution. In other words, the strategy of Terror International does not seem to be achieving its desired effect where it matters most--in Iraq. Nor should its strategy be allowed to bear fruit in the rest of the democratic world. The terrorists don't want to liberate Iraq; they want to enslave it in the name of a demented dream. Their vision was articulated in a postattack video, purportedly created by al-Qaeda, in which the group's "military spokesman for Europe" told the Europeans, "You love life, we love death." How do you negotiate with nihilism?
You can't. You have to fight it while respecting two rules. First, do not destroy the precious freedoms of liberal democracy while fighting their enemies. Second, if the enemy is a complicated network, the defense has to build networks of its own. That requires sustained cooperation among all democracies, something the Bush Administration has learned a bit late in the game.
After the Madrid bombing, even the German government, which consistently opposed the Iraq war, came around to this recognition. A senior German official, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said, "If ... you can plant a big bomb in Europe, cause a government to fall and force a withdrawal of troops, then this would send the wrong signal to terrorists." He added, "That's not in Germany's interests or in Europe's or in Spain's." Winston Churchill put it more concisely: "An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile hoping he will eat him last."
Josef Joffe is the editor of Die Zeit and a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution