Another blow in this world war

March 17, 2004|By Cal Thomas

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The dramatic upset by Spain's Socialist Party in Sunday's election represents a setback in the war on terror. The killers of 200 people on trains in Madrid last week made a calculated gamble that their horrific act would change the outcome of the election and put in office a new president who opposes Spain's participation in the stabilization of Iraq.

Incoming Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has promised to bring home Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq when their tour of duty closes at the end of June. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

Haven't Europeans learned anything from history? Don't they recall the resignation of Austria's president in 1938 and the annexation of his country by Germany to "avoid war"? This merely increased Hitler's appetite, and he launched World War II by invading Czechoslovakia following British and French appeasement at Munich. Spain will make itself and the rest of the West less safe if Mr. Zapatero follows through on his promise of a troop withdrawal.

The possibility that terrorists will try to repeat their political success in Spain during America's election season will be greatly enhanced if Spain cuts and runs. President Bush has done more to stand up to terror and evil than any president since Ronald Reagan. If elected president, Sen. John Kerry would return American decision-making to the dithering and powerless United Nations, which is precisely what America's enemies would like to see.

The message Europeans should have received from the Madrid bombings is that the days when they can criticize America for its approach to terrorism are, or should be, over. This is a world war, not a regional one. This is a war against not only American and Spanish values but against all values based on personal freedom, religious pluralism and individual conscience. This is a war that will not be over in a year or a decade. There will be no returning to "business as usual," because fighting terrorists worldwide is now usual business.

Whether those responsible for the Madrid bombings prove to be linked to al-Qaida, Basque separatists or a free-lance organization that seeks to use al-Qaida's "brand" to gain visibility, it is all terrorism.

Whether the IRA in Northern Ireland, Palestinian terrorists in the Middle East or Chechen rebels in Russia, those who would kill the innocent in pursuit of their objectives must first be killed. They must be harassed, wiretapped, invaded, shut down and eliminated. Their meeting places -- mosques, churches or secular hideouts -- must be exposed, closed and bulldozed. Anyone who still doubts whether the doctrine of pre-emption should be invoked throughout the world is either one of them or seriously deluded.

Imagine this. A tape is sent to Al-Jazeera with the face and voice of Osama bin Laden. He claims to have nuclear suitcase bombs in several major American cities and in London, Paris and Berlin. He demands that the United States withdraw support for Israel and Saudi Arabia and pledge not to intervene as he leads a war against Jerusalem and Riyadh. If we try to stop him, he threatens to detonate his bombs, killing millions.

The free world cannot afford to wait until that day. It must cooperatively and immediately take an aggressive, unforgiving and effective stance that will neutralize terrorists wherever they are hiding and working to destroy us, our economy, our freedoms and our way of life. There will be no time for appeals to the United Nations or negotiations with these sick people.

There is no time for seminars at which academics and other remainders from the '60s ponder, "Why do they hate us?" We shouldn't care. The question should be, "How quickly can we eliminate them before they come after us again?" They cannot be placated or converted, and the longer we pretend they can, the more bombings and death we will see.

The election in Spain is a sign that the horrors of 9/11 in New York and Washington and now 3/11 in Madrid are not the end of it. They are just the beginning. This is a world war, and we had better start behaving as though we are in one. Our enemies are.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun.

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