The American Interest

The Victory of Fear in Spain

If, as appears certain, Islamic terrorists planted the bombs that killed over 200 commuters and wounded 1,400 others on Madrid’s trains on March 11, the operation was singularly successful in achieving its political objectives.

Until that morning, the Popular Party (PP) government of the former prime minister José Maria Aznar looked poised to win the general election scheduled for March 14.  The ruling party’s candidate, Mariano Rajoy, led most polls by three to four percentage points, and the PP had even hoped to retain its outright majority in the 350-member Congress of Deputies (Cortes).

When, one day after the attacks, the suspected Islamic connection became known, the mood of the nation turned violently against Aznar.  His support for President George W. Bush in the war in Iraq—hugely unpopular to start with—came to be seen as the cause of the attack.  Aznar was accused not only of having unnecessarily exposed the country to danger from Islamic militants but of cynically accusing the Basque separatist group ETA—and minimizing the Islamic connection in the immediate aftermath of the attack—in order to avoid that kind of blame.  Demonstrations initially staged to protest the attacks soon turned into antigovernment rallies, with protesters chanting “Aznar, terrorist” and carrying posters of Aznar flanked by Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair...

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