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 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Madrid terrorist bombings are having unexpected significance

The 3/11 bombings may have the same effect on Europeans that the 9/11 attacks had on Americans. (15-Mar-04)
Summary The 3/11 Madrid terrorist attacks appear to be having unexpected significance. Europeans may be developing the same visceral fears that Americans developed after 9/11, and this will result in hardening of attitudes, some pro-American and some anti-American. Most significant is that al-Qaeda scored a major victory, by redirecting the Spanish election to a Socialist who promises to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.

Although there have been numerous major terrorist attacks around the world since 9/11, the massive terrorist bombings on the Madrid train system on 3/11 appear to be having a major political impact.

Major terrorist attacks on Madrid's train system on 3/11
Major terrorist attacks on Madrid's train system on 3/11

The 9/11 attacks caused a significant change in the American public's attitudes. As numerous articles have indicated, the American public as a whole was traumatized by the attacks, and developed a visceral fear that the American way of life was in danger. This has spurred a continuing desire for justice and retribution against the terrorists.

Although the Europeans sympathized with America after 9/11, they never felt the same visceral fear. They felt that terrorism was an American problem and that, if anything, Americans were overreacting.

Out: Conservative Jose Maria Aznar
Out: Conservative Jose Maria Aznar

It appears that the 3/11 attacks have now evoked the same kinds of visceral fears in the European public. This had to happen sooner or later, since Europe has entered the same generational crisis period that America did, some 55-60 years after the end of World War II. But now that it appears to have happened, we can expect a major hardening of attitudes in Europe during the next few months, some pro-American changes and some anti-American changes.

In: Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (AP)
In: Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (AP)

The backlash in Spain is of enormous significance. The conservative government, led by Jose Maria Aznar, was expected to win the national elections on Sunday, but the attacks turned the election into an unexpected Socialist win.

Aznar had strongly supported the American effort in Iraq, despite the unpopularity of the war among the Spanish people. The new Socialist leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has promised to bring the Spanish troops home from Iraq by June 30, fulfilling a campaign promise.

This is a major blow to American prestige. But it also signals major new worries in the war against terrorism.

The 20-Mar-04 issue of <i>The Economist</i> portrays 	al-Qaeda's deck of playing cards; R to L: Aznar, 	Bush, Australia's John Howard, England's Tony Blair
The 20-Mar-04 issue of The Economist portrays al-Qaeda's deck of playing cards; R to L: Aznar, Bush, Australia's John Howard, England's Tony Blair

Al-Qaeda has already scored a big victory: For the first time, al-Qaeda has affected an election by means of a terrorist attack, and forced a retreat. The Spanish troop pullout, if fulfilled, will be an enormous additional victory for al-Qaeda.

The Madrid bombings have revealed how exposed train systems around the world are to terrorism. Here in Massachusetts, there is enormous new concern that the Boston-area trains will be vulnerable targets during the Democratic Party national convention in July.

But this vulnerability is even more apparent in Europe. Terrorists were able to succeed in a major European capital, with no forewarning from the intelligence community. Europeans now realize that it could happen just as easily in Paris or Berlin.

Significantly, both France and Germany have called for meetings of European Union foreign ministers and security personnel to assess the danger.

As the European position hardens, expect to see a growth in anti-Americanism, a burgeoning feeling of fear and fury directed at al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and an increasing desire for justice and retribution among Europeans. However, this doesn't mean that Europe will speak with a single voice; some countries may become more pro-American, for example. But wherever there is a visceral fear of new terror, expect feelings to harden, one way or another.

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.