It was al Qaeda, or some group linked with al Qaeda. When I heard of the train bombings in Madrid I felt that instinctively. Yes, I had heard of ETA, the Basque separatist group. I knew they had killed many people over many years in various terrorist incidents. But this event felt different. Perhaps it was because it happened two years and six months to the day after 9/11. Perhaps it was because it also occurred exactly 911 days after 9/11. Perhaps it was the magnitude: 201 people killed, over a thousand injured. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the attacks. Box cutters and tear gas were the low-tech mechanisms used by al Queda against us. Ubiquitous backpacks stuffed with explosives and detonated by cell phone seemed like more of the same modus operandi.
But the Spanish government insisted (“beyond a shadow of a doubt”) that it was ETA that was behind the attack. But it didn’t gibe with the facts. It felt shrill. It felt like emotion was being substituted for evidence.
If I am to believe the Bush Administration, Spaniards voted in the Socialist Party because they were squeamish about confronting terrorism. Spaniards were hoping that by withdrawing its forces from Iraq the terrorists would leave Spain alone. But I don’t believe it. I believe it was a reaction by the Spanish people to being lied to by their own government. It wasn’t enough that the government engaged in a preemptive war with Iraq despite the opposition of 90% of its people. With this incident it finally struck home to Spaniards that their government wasn’t beyond misleading its own people about such a crucial issue simply to stay in power.
That sounds uncomfortably familiar to those of us who believed before the Iraq War that we were being misled by our own president. It was an intuition that unfortunately has been vindicated by time and evidence. On clue was how far the needed have moved on the hype meter. Hype is another way of saying the evidence is slim.
A more sanguine administration here in the United States might learn a lesson from this. But Bush has learned nothing. But I might as well write it down, even if no Republican is likely to take it to heart. It’s this: if you want to have the trust of the American people it must be earned by being honest with the voters. Come November Bush will finally learn this simple truth.