The Spanish voters did the world a favor with their Sunday surprise: These are the Europeans that John Kerry wants to depend on when the going gets tough.
America deserves better, even if John Kerry doesn't think so.
The new government in Madrid can't wait to join France and Germany in the axis of weasels: "It's not that Spain is going to surrender against terror," Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is regarded as the likely foreign minister in the new Madrid government, said in an interview yesterday. "We're not going to surrender, but we want to be much more clever, more sophisticated and more efficient in order to defeat them. Of course we have to return to Europe. We have to return to the hard-core of Europe. We have to re-establish confidence between Spain, France and Germany. ..."
This is the face of appeasement, poltroonery and cowardice unmasked, and you can smell the fear and funk from here. Senator Kerry, a bit of an aspiring weasel himself, hurried to make a clumsy attempt to exploit the tragedy in Madrid as a mark against George W. Bush. "When it comes to protecting America from terrorism, this administration is big on bluster and they're short on action," he said. "But as we saw again last week in Spain, real action is what we need." Monsieur Kerry's idea of "real action" is retreat into Europe, in the spirit of the famous vow of Michael Dukakis who, when asked in a 1988 presidential debate how he would respond to a rapist in his wife's bedroom, replied that he would organize a task force to study the causes of crime.
All politics is local, and no less in Spain than in Sacramento or St. Louis, and the Spaniards who threw out the government of Jose Maria Aznar no doubt voted the way they did for all kinds of reasons. Many voters, in the accounts of exit pollsters, were infuriated by the government's attempt to pin the bombing of the trains on Basque terrorists when it was clear from the very beginning that the likeliest suspects were killers in the name of a deadly strain of Islam. The liberal Madrid newspaper El Pais put the defeat of Senor Aznar down as the price of government lies, and concluded that it was "the manipulation, the lies, the offensive use of the argument of the war against terror to justify just about any policy, the blatant opportunism and puerile arrogance that caused those in power to lose it yesterday."
Cowardice is available in Madrid in abundance — cowardice of the bombers, cowardice of an incumbent government trying to spin a fish story to gain votes, cowardice of Spanish voters who imagine that the only way to safety and security is to cut and run from the struggle and to be "more clever, more sophisticated" in dealing with an enemy that glories in death. Now we're rewarded with more cowardice by the new government promising appeasement as its only weapon of war.
The result is depressing for everyone who loves liberty, because surrender to despotism is always at the expense of liberty. The coalition in Iraq will survive the withdrawal of 1,200 Spanish soldiers from Iraq (it's tempting to observe that Spanish military prowess has been of little consequence anywhere since Trafalgar, two centuries ago); with Spain out of the fight, soldiers of more than 30 other nations remain in Iraq to support the heavy lifting — and hard fighting — of the Americans and the British, the old reliables of two world wars, whom Jacques Chirac sneers at as "the Anglo-Saxons."
The reasonable fear is that the Spanish result will encourage appeasement in the rest of Europe, where uncommon cowardice has been a common lack of virtue. This prospect has begun to chill unlikely voices. Le Monde, usually eager to carp at everything American and until now thoroughly skeptical of the American attempt to do something about September 11, nevertheless thinks Europe may be learning a needed lesson: "The world's democracies are confronted with the same menace and should act together, using military means and waging at the same time a war for their ideals."
Monsieur Kerry, who imagines that he is "the new JFK," and his legion of the frail and fearful have taken heart at the first effect of the Madrid bombings. They imagine it to be a precursor of further surrender to timidity in the face of mortal danger. But Monsieur Kerry gets JFK, like a lot of other things, all wrong. If he really wants to be JFK, he should ponder JFK's promise that America will always "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." This must be the only lesson of Madrid.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.