Monday, March 15, 2004


Don over at RevMod is confused as to why Al Qaeda would attack Spain. Don asks:

First of all, al Quada? Really? Al Quada's raison d'etre was to destabilise secular governments in the middle east so that there would be opportunities to replace them with theocracies like the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Pissing off the Americans was a means to that end. That certainly doesn't explain the bombings on Thursday

I wouldn't call that Al Qaeda's raison d'etre. I would say its part of their plan. I would say their raison d'etre is more aptly defined by the statement of one of their founders: "we are not trying to negotiate with you, we are trying to destroy you." There goal is not destabilization, their goal is destruction.

Don then asks: "why Spain? It's not like there's a whole lot of security on commuter trains anywhere else, either - why pick on the smallest of the major Iraq occupiers?"

Some reasons:
1. Jose Maria Anzar was one of the staunchest and outspoken supporters of the Iraq war amongst European leaders.
2. The country was days away from a national election, why not try and disrupt (or even influence) the very means by which we define ourselves.
3. Attacking a major western democracy shows the democratic west is far from having Al Qaeda defeated.
4. As the statement of claim from Al Qaeda said, it was a "strike against crusaders," recalling the long history of Muslim oppression by the Spanish.

Then their is James Bow'sthoughts on the Spanish election outcome. Bow says the idea that the election result is a rebuke of the Popular Party's stance on the war on terror or that it shows a shirking of Spanish resolve is a particular 'spin.' I would call it an interpretation.

Bow's interpretation is that the Spanish felt Anzar was manipulating the attacks for political ends and responded to that by defeating his party. Bow claims, "but from the start, the bombings didn't have the ETA's signitures." Well, yes and no. The attack seemed not in the style of past ETA attacks yet they were carried out with the same type of explosives usually used by the ETA, and their was enough confusion for various Spanish ministers to focus on both the ETA and Islamists (link) Bow then claims that "to most everybody on the street, this was an Al Queda attack." Really? Then what was with all the people in the streets holding the anti ETA signs? Were they just following the government 'spin' or did they have their own interpretation?

I think there are a lot of factors that went into the result of the Spanish vote and I don't think we can single out any one. The important point is that the terrorists targeted an election (more on that later).

Bow then goes on to his second point, which is 'crisis management is not leadership.' He writes:

Using the disaster to claim that one's opponents couldn't do so well, that they threaten the safety of the country, is unbecoming of a political leader.

It's akin to a manager courageously fending off an armed gang trying to rob a store, and then explicitly pointing to this experience as the main reason why he should get a promotion to a lucrative supervisory position over a manager of a store across town that wasn't robbed. You can not claim to know how well your opponents will do in such a crisis and, at some level, one should hope that we never find out.

First: Government is not management, but I understand the analogy so lets use it. I would say the more appropriate analogy is along these lines:

The manager who fended off the robbery claims that the experience has taught him that store security can't be taken for granted. He claims to be best suited for the lucrative promotion because he is best able to asses the store's security vulnerability and respond by installing surveillance cameras and better locks. The manager across the street who doesn't have the burglary experience doesn't see armed robbery as an issue. He is of the opinion that in a dangerous world these things occasionally happen and the best solution is not to confront armed robbers and to make sure you have good insurance. The first manager, based on his experience, wants to prevent future robberies, the second manager wants to respond to robberies after the fact.

I agree that crisis management is not leadership. Leadership is how you respond to the cause of the crisis.

Posted by Matthew @ 6:35 p.m.