was a vote heard round the world. European newspapers
described it as a "political earthquake." Spain's
conservative Popular Party, headed by Prime Minister
Jose Maria Aznar, was defeated in an election
on Sunday that was clearly determined by public
opposition to Spain's participation in the Iraq
Bush administration has now lost one of its most
outspoken and prominent allies in the occupation
of Iraq, second only to Britain's Tony Blair.
But what is most remarkable about the election
is that it happened just three days after Spain
fell victim to the deadliest terrorist attack
on the European mainland since World War II.
least 200 people were killed and over 1500 wounded
in the bombings of rush-hour trains in Madrid.
Evidence so far points to people associated with
Al Qaeda as responsible.
instead of rallying around the ruling party in
the wake of this horrific attack -- as often happens
-- millions blamed the government for involving
Spain in a war that 90 percent of the Spanish
people had opposed. Thousands of demonstrators
took to the streets on Saturday with angry messages
such as "Your War, Our Dead."
anger prevailed, fueled also by suspicions that
the government -- which initially blamed the Basque
separatist group ETA for the bombings -- was trying
to withhold information about the perpetrators.
The ruling party -- which was ahead in the polls
just a few days earlier -- knew that if Al-Qaeda
were seen to be responsible, it would cost them
June 30 I will give the order for [Spanish troops]
to return home," said Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero,
the leader of the winning Socialist Party, on
Thursday. This pledge proved decisive to a majority
of voters, who turned out in very large numbers.
is hard to imagine such a scenario in the United
States, where our governing party was able to
take both houses of Congress in 2002, partly by
beating the drums of war and diverting attention
from all the other issues on which it was vulnerable.
President Bush has skillfully used the tragedy
of September 11, not only to launch the war in
Iraq -- which had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda
or terrorism -- but for issues seemingly even
less related, such as tax cuts for the wealthy
and "fast-track" authority for trade negotiations.
a majority of Americans now think that the war
was not worth it, according to recent polls. Millions
are also aware that terrorism directed against
Americans is overwhelmingly a result of our foreign
policy, and not the other way around. For Spanish
voters, the solution was clear: stop participating
in the conquest and occupation of other nations.
will eventually come to the same conclusion, but
when? In the first weeks after September 11, 2001,
there were some who began to ask -- like children
who do not know that such questions are inappropriate
-- "Why do they hate us?" But this line of inquiry
was quickly dropped. Soon the "war against terrorism"
had become the replacement for the all-encompassing
"war against Communism" that had served as pretext
for all the terrible things (invasions, military
coups, massacres, dictators) that our government
supported throughout most of the post-World-War
pundits and editorial writers here will lament
about "Spain giving in to terrorism," and how
Spain's election will only "encourage terrorism."
On Sunday our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
criticized the Spanish opposition: "It's like
feeding an alligator, hoping it eats you last.
And it's not a terribly proud posture, in my view."
couldn't be more wrong. A more appropriate metaphor
would have Mr. Rumsfeld kicking and stomping on
an alligator, which would otherwise not have become
Spanish people should indeed be proud that in
the face of a heart-wrenching national tragedy,
while still mourning their dead and caring for
their wounded, they refused to be manipulated.
With courage and rationality, they decided that
it was not enough to fight such barbarity through
increased security or law enforcement, while allowing
their government to continue provoking it. They
decided to do something about the cause of the
will be a great day for the United States -- and
the world -- when we do the same.
Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic
and Policy Research (www.cepr.net), in Washington,
Posted: March 22, 2004