COMMENTARY | Within moments of the explosions from terrorist bombs on March 11, 2004, witnesses claimed you couldn’t hear any sounds on the Spanish commuter trains, except one. Hundreds of cell phone rings could be heard. Frantic calls made to ensure their loved ones were safe would never be answered. The death toll in Madrid was 200, with another 1,500 wounded.
Shortly thereafter, Spain’s conservatives, the Popular Party, were crushed at the ballot box. This party had supported George W. Bush in the war on terrorism, and had deployed troops to Iraq. But with their crushing defeat, the Spanish Socialist Party withdrew their soldiers. Pundits claimed that the terrorists therefore must have been victorious in their goals.
Except that’s not how it really went down.
An article in the Homeland Security Affairs Journal, published by the Naval Postgraduate School, provided evidence that demonstrated that the terrorists didn’t win the election. In fact, it almost kept the Popular Party of Jose Maria Aznar in power. Here’s how.
Going into the 2004 election, Spanish conservatives under Aznar were trailing badly, thanks to the unpopular Iraq War. But the 3/11 bomb blasts actually provided a lot of sympathy for the existing government. Some call this a “rally ’round the flag” effect, where an attack produces a burst of nationalism. And those often benefit nationalistic parties like the Popular Party.
But that’s where the Aznar government miscalculated badly. Even though signs pointed to an al-Qaeda attack, the Spanish Popular Party hoped to press their electoral advantage. The Spanish government blamed Basque separatists in the group ETA. That’s because Basques prefer the rival Spanish socialists.
When voters realized their government was lying to them, they turned on Aznar and his conservative allies. The Popular Party was, indeed, trounced in the 2004 election.
So did terrorists “win” the election? Hardly. If anything, they almost kept their enemies in office. If more terrorists knew how ineffective their methods were, attacks might be less likely.
Critics who claim that terrorists succeeded in Spain are falsely giving hope to those who seek to kill innocents for political goals. It’s time we learn the truth about 3/11, the way the Spanish people learned who was really responsible.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.