The other night, I attended a reception at the Embassy of Iraq. Virtually all Iraq's communities were represented: Sunni, Shia and Kurd, Muslim and Christian. There were women in modest veils and not-so-modest cocktail dresses. There were men in designer suits and others in desert robes. They seemed to get along fabulously. At least they had this in common: None of them would have set foot in that building so long as it belonged to Saddam Hussein.
I was among the few non-Iraqis. Nevertheless, I was made to feel very welcome by Ambassador-designate Rend Rahim Franke and her guests. But then, I have known many of these individuals since their days of exile, when they struggled to communicate the brutality and menace of the regime they had escaped.
I do wish that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero could have been there. Mr. Zapatero, of course, is the leader of Spain's Socialist Workers' Party which was swept to victory in last weekend's elections following the worst terrorist attack in Spain's history.
Mr. Zapatero plans to withdraw his nation's 1,300 troops from Iraq. By so doing, the government of Spain will be telling the people of Iraq they should not have been liberated a year ago, and that it is a matter of indifference whether next year they live in freedom or tyranny.
Spanish voters already have sent a message to the terrorists who slaughtered more than 200 of their countrymen. Those terrorists intended to have an impact on Spain's elections – without airing a commercial or publishing an op-ed. They succeeded. Those terrorists also intended to widen the gulf between the United States and Europe -- to divide, the better to conquer. For now, at least, they have accomplished that goal as well.
The view of too many Spanish voters may be gleaned from a banner displayed by protestors in Barcelona. It showed outgoing President Jose Maria Aznar with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The banner read: “Did this picture cost 200 lives?”
So it is the picture, not those who planted the bombs, not those who sent them, who are to blame?
Another Spanish protestor was quoted in The New York Times: "Maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq, and Al Qaeda will forget about Spain, so we will be less frightened.”
The terrorists are not likely to forget about Spain – centuries ago, it was part of a grand Islamic empire that the jihadis have vowed to restore.
The most distressing comment, however, came not from a Spaniard but from Romano Prodi, chief of the European Commission. He told Italy's La Stampa: “It is clear that force alone cannot win the fight against terrorists.”
So in his very European view, what non-forceful means should we be employing -- that we are not now employing -- to fight terrorists? Should we, perhaps, sit down and negotiate with Osama bin Laden? Perhaps Munich might provide the appropriate venue.
Keep in mind that bin Laden claimed two primary reasons for attacking Americans on September 11, 2001: (1) American, infidel forces were stationed on holy Saudi soil, and (2) the US had imposed painful sanctions on Iraqis. Today, our forces have left Saudi Arabia and sanctions have been lifted – indeed, were in not for the terrorists, Iraqis would be well on their way to unprecedented prosperity.
The truth is al Qaeda seeks more than it demands. It is intent on nothing less than the West's defeat and destruction. Are there really people in the West – even Europeans –willing to negotiate that?
My Iraqi friends grasp all this – and are puzzled when others fail to. They were similarly perplexed a year ago when protestors held signs reading “No War On Iraq!” when it was so obviously Saddam who had been waging war on Iraqis for decades. The question was whether anyone would try to stop the carnage – either out of altruism or enlightened self-interest.
Most of the Iraqis I know are only too eager to tell anyone who will listen how grateful they are to America, how fully they appreciate the sacrifices Americans are making, how fervently they pray that Americans will not abandon them this time.
And there are millions of Arabs and Muslims like them – millions who want the freedom to select their leaders, to speak their minds without fear, to worship as they choose.
But in their home countries, even to give voice to such desires is perilous. And Arab/Muslim freedom fighters in the West – Farid Ghadry of the Syrian Reform Party, Agha Jafri of the Universal Muslim Association of America, Mohamed Eljahmi of the American Libyan Freedom Alliance, Ali al-Ahmed of the Saudi Institute, to name just a few -- seldom have the resources to compete effectively with the “angry Arabs” funded by Saudi Arabians and others determined to preserve the oppressive status quo.
Not all Spaniards, not all Europeans seek a comfortable neutrality midway between murderers and the murdered. My hope is that those who know better will make their case forcefully in the days ahead.
Perhaps, too, Spaniards will suffer from buyer's remorse. Perhaps they will demand that Mr. Zapatero stand up to terrorism. He needn't say he now thinks it was wise to invade Iraq. He need only say that those who kill policemen and foreign aid workers anywhere are, self-evidently, terrorists. He should add that Spain, itself a victim of terrorism, will stand with other victims and do what is necessary -- including in Iraq -- to defeat civilization's enemy while helping to bring freedom to Spain's long-suffering neighbors in the Middle East.