Random musings from a libertarian, tech geek...
The Blogosphere illuminati have had much to say and I highly recommend checking a few of 'em out:
I agree with them all. Since I rarely avoid an oppty to unleash a good rant, and since Abhishek, Gumnaam & co. sorta dared me....
The Bombings were NOT a simple, localized response to Spanish intervention in Iraq -- that's a convenient post-facto rationale bandied by the Western Left. It's certainly a convenient tag line for Al Qaeda to "position" the bombing for maximum tactical gain. For the Spanish electorate ,it's a convenient tit-for-tat explanation that lets 'em quietly slink their heads back into the sand of Euro welfare state post nationalism -- the Spanish will get to slide a few places back behind other states who more bravely take up the fight (similar, perhaps not surprisingly, to their strategy in WWII). Al Qaeda was only too happy to oblige this fantasy.
In my book, at best, IF Iraq truly, uniquely prompted Al Qaeda here, doesn't that provide a rather overt linkage between the 2? Whatever the case, recent Al Qaeda attacks in nations such as Turkey (which, until the very end actively obstructed Iraqi invasion), Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia to name a few were acts of violence which were NOT the product of supporting the US in Iraq.
Bin Laden's ilk targeted Spaniards not as Bush supporters but rather as a step towards reclaiming Al-Andalusia. Like Napolean facing the Austrians at Austerlitz, they've induced the Spaniards to do exactly what they wanted them to do. Drezner's post has the most succinct writing on this.
Terrorists have now found a tactic that "sticks" -- After 9/11, they were high-fiving each other merely because they had successfully executed violence. Now they high-five because they've extracted political and soon, possibly, military concessions. By targeting the Spanish electorate, they've achieved what they couldn't have done in a hundred years against the Spanish military. One can only imagine the violence that this response will invite as elections loom in Australia, the UK, and the US.
They certainly believe it "sticks" -- just look at how the Gulf News or Al Jazeera describes the news - they saw (more presciently than I did) that the Spanish protests the next day were anger directed towards Bush rather than Al Qaeda. What wonderful words of encouragement to the "black pajama-clad killers" who seek to return the glory of the Spanish Caliphate. The Spaniards have demonstrated they will go after the US with an emotional vindictive I presume they will never direct towards the nations that supported the people who actually planted the bombs. It's certainly less risky for them to vent their adolescent post modern rage at the US than the true enemy.
All I can do is emphatically tell the islamo-fundies is that Americans are men apart from the Spaniards. A new, bloody attack on American soil will create an electorate that forces the President (*either* Bush or Kerry) to throw more of Dar al-Islam into reform school (Syria? Iran?) rather than less. Watching Spain makes me appreciate Mead's prescience when he argued that the Jacksonian response was possibly a peculiarity of American culture.
Targeting their "Military" is an inadequate strategy -- Like Lileks, I wholeheartedly disagree with folks who characterize this attack as somehow sophisticated -
A group of 20 techies in Silicon Valley possess all the technical and material capability to pull of this sort of attack (and perhaps worse). Expecting police and security forces to defend against these sorts of tactics from any group of 20 is simply untenable. The ultimate reason our 20 techies won't do this is because they've been thoroughly coopted into the social, economic, political system and believe they can truly fulfill their ambitions within it.
In our increasingly interconnected and technologically capable world, that's the only long term strategy we've got. 20 yrs ago building a remote detonator required electrical & radio engineering skills, now it just requires a cellphone or garage door opener. Building a nuke will follow an analogous cost / skills curve eventually.
Before that, we need to break 'em out of the ossified little sh*t holes that so many of them live in and integrate them into the community of liberal, democratic, capitalist, and ultimately dynamic nations. It's a large, ambitious project but there isn't much of an alternative. Now more than ever, draining the swamp that breeds these mosquitoes is required - rather than praying we can rely on better mosquito nets.
Unfortunately, this first requires that we ourselves possess faith that liberalism + democracy + capitalism are truly a long term ideal - a path the Spanish Socialists apparently aren't so quick to agree with. And perhaps more unfortunately, lefties like Arundhati Roy provide these cretons with intellectual free passes with their charismatic denigration of these ideals.
Counter-attacks and casualties are a natural part of War -- One thing that constantly bugs me is how many folks cynically consider anything short of absolute perfection to be an absolute failure. The majority of US engagements in the first year or 2 of WWII were real failures in the military sense. Should Americans have pulled out of WWII after our first engagement at Kasserine pass resulted in a rout and >6,000 casualties? More Americans lost their lives in the first DAY on a single beach in the Normandy Invasion than in the entire Operation Iraqi Freedom to date. 2500 dead on day 1 of Omaha beach bought us a few miles of beachhead; 600 dead over a year of Iraqi Freedom freed a nation of 25M and the size of California and is setting off a chain reaction in the Arab world. George Washington persevered for several YEARS in the Revolution before winning a single major battle.
Historically, even after the Good guys had unequivocally established positive momentum, the Bad guys were still able to inflict military casualties in the 10's of thousands. Was Hitler's ability to launch the massive Winter '44 Ardennes offensive & inflict over 70,000 allied casualties a scant few months before his ultimate capitulation somehow a sign that Ike/FDR's war plan to date had been a total failure?
Especially given how easy it is to launch these so-called "sophisticated" train attacks, the real miracle in my book is that so few have happened to date and I can only wonder at the wizardry that must have been deployed to provide us with this security. As much as I praise this achievement, I still believe the next attack is somewhat inevitable - all we can manage is its size.
Every casualty is a tragedy but there are ideals that are worth fighting & dying for (I for one am certainly glad the Founding Fathers so emphatically put their lives on the line for the thoroughly abstract ideal of Freedom). You can't clean house without kicking up some dust first. Too many have become so effete that a few specks of dust are enough to call off the entire mission.
I have full confidence that we can accomplish our goals in the domain of military strategy. Political victory, alas, is something only we can give them - something the Spaniards were apparently quite willing to do.
UPDATE - VERY high quality post @ Winds of Change with great details on the history and aftermath of the bombing