This week’s election in Spain has given a lot of commentators a bad case of the vapors. Spain, they say, has given into terrorism by electing a Socialist prime minister who thinks the war in Iraq was a “disaster” and that his nation ought to spurn the coalition of the willing in favor of the Axis of Weasels.
To be sure, the new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has done his best to play the part of the feckless firebrand. He has blasted President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and everybody but the Al Qaeda murderers who sprayed Madrid with blood last week. (He has endorsed John Kerry.)
But don’t take such talk too seriously. Zapatero is a tyro, a novice, a beginner. He is behaving like what he is: a guy who never thought he would win. Now that the shock of victory has begun to wear off, he will have to start thinking like a prime minister, which means he will have to dispense with the stump-speech bilge about the Evil Americans, and turn his attention toward the project of expelling the Evil Terrorists.
Responsibility has a chastening effect on even the shallowest demagogue, and Zapatero has exactly two weeks to wise up. That’s when he will join fellow European leaders for a summit focused on global terror. From that moment on, he will find himself drawn ever more closely to the Americans and, for now, to George W. Bush.
Spain’s election was a fluke in many ways: Young people helped turn the tide by flocking to the polls in unprecedented numbers. Youngsters and first-time voters, frightened by the bombing, effectively asked their government to make the bad people go away, and do so in a manner that would require no sacrifice, no pain, no hardship and no vigilance.
Zapatero is old enough to realize life doesn’t work that way, and that he will need the help of Americans if he is to deny Muslim zealots their desire to annex the Iberian Peninsula, which slipped from their grasp in 1492. He has no choice. If he attempts to become too cozy with the Old Europe, he’ll fail — and he knows it.
So to repeat: There’s no need for panic. The Spanish election is what it is: An upset manufactured by a combustible mixture of tragedy, fear, political miscalculation and electoral luck. The good news is that the winners now must become leaders — and that Al Qaeda, by playing its card so obviously, has probably rigged its last election.