Memo re: David Brooks

Plenty of otherwise perceptive people, both left and right, have been saying that the Spanish regime change is a direct referendum on long-term national policies towards global terrorism. Within this framework, Aznar and his posse stand for Bush-style take-no-prisoners bring-it-on rough kill 'em all and let God sort it out frontier vigilante justice, and the Zapatero crew represent waffly wimpy appeasement with a glass of dry sherry.

Me, I have my doubts. Even if you do assume that terrorism is the only issue weighing on the Spanish mind -- and it's certainly not the only one weighing on the American mind -- it's still undetermined, as a matter of principle, which way the Madrid bombings "ought" to have cut. They meant either that the government was right to stand with the U.S. against, er, Iraq, or that the government's stance wasn't working. Whatever you already believe, you might project onto the bombing and the election; David Brooks projects the "terrorists will have won" meme, and sees Spain installing an objectively pro-Qaeda government.

First question: Am I correct in reading Brooks's first paragraph to suggest that he thinks the elections should have been delayed or cancelled due to the bombing? Is he really saying that maintaining normal democratic processes in the face of terror is "crazy?"

Second question: Is it at all possible that this was not an election decided by long-term policy considerations but by Spanish public reaction to more short-term indicators of the quality of their current government? Remember, after all, that the Aznar government blamed ETA within hours, and kept blaming ETA after ETA denied involvement, and even for almost a day after its own forces had arrested several Moroccans and Indians with apparent links to al Qaeda. And remember, too, that the government only said yes, it had these men in custody and they didn't seem like Basques after the opposition forced its hand by threatening to expose the lies publicly.

Perhaps I should put this question in terms Brooks might understand. Might it be that Spanish voters do care about mounting an effective defense against terror? And that they concluded that a government which would publicly make statements it knew to be false absolving al Qaeda of involvement might not be counted on to deal sensibly with future al Qaeda threats?

Let's imagine a little hypothetical just to make my point clear. Suppose the Aznar government had said from the get-go that it wasn't certain of the bombers' identity but was investigating all leads aggressively. And that then they had announced, within two days, they had anounced that they had in hand five men linked to the bombings and a videotape linking them to al Qaeda.

It may just be me, but I would have thought that that sort of swift and competent police work would have swept the Aznar government back into office. And, of course, the police work was both switft and competent. Too bad for the Popular Party that the police work was accompanied by a clumsy, detectable, and embarassing lie.