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Three days after the Madrid terror strikes, which left 200 killed and hundreds more injured, the background to the attacks in Spain's capital remains unclear. Did the attacks originate from a local context, as part of a struggle waged by an underground group for Basque independence; or, alternatively, did they emerge from a world context, with Madrid being the latest stop in a campaign of terror waged by Jihad groups affiliated with Al-Qaida? Regardless of the alternative, Madrid became another front in the 21st century war, the Terror War.

The last century brought to humanity two lethal world wars that killed tens of millions of people, as well as a Cold War that left one surviving superpower, a country that is unable to impose its will around the world. Lurking in remote corners of the world are subversive elements that have declared war on the West and on its ideas, wealth and way of life. By definition, this Terror War is an all-out, life or death struggle that cannot end in a truce; one of the sides must succumb. Though this war started years before September 11, 2001, it was on that date that the American superpower was hit at home, and was thrust into the position of leading western forces, just as the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (more than two years after World War II had begun in Europe) forced the United States to take part in the war.

The dynamic in the Terror War is the reverse: America was hit before Europe. Even if it turns out that the Madrid attacks were the handiwork of Basque groups, who were inspired or assisted by Al-Qaida, their meaning will not change. Europe has been roused from its slumber. Terror is not limited to New York and Washington, Bali and Mombasa, Russia and Israel. Courting the favor of Arab and Muslim populations in whose name terror purports to strike - even though this population has not authorized the terror - will not tame the beast.

Wars conclude with political arrangements that become possible when conflicting demands can be balanced, and when the price of continued fighting exceeds whatever victory one might gain on the battlefield. This reality, whose gist is encapsulated by Clausewitz's dictum about the connection between war and state policy applied to sovereign states linked in a global network (featuring the United Nations) or a regional system (such as NATO or the European Union). But the rule cannot be applied to terror organizations, which exploit territories allotted to them, willfully or not, by host countries as platforms to attack targets in other countries.

After the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration attempted to close the floodgates to terror. The White House launched responsive attacks and pre-emptive attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration has worked on the assumption that initiative must not remain in the hands of the terror groups - no longer should they have the power to decide whether hundreds of civilians will die or to pose threats that paralyze populations. Judging by the response displayed by the Spanish people, Europeans are not showing a precious degree of unity and joining the alliance of victims being led by the Americans. Should terror not be vanquished in a long, hard struggle waged around the world, the way of life cherished by citizens of free states will be undermined. U.S. President George W. Bush's demand that countries around the world take a stand and show who is in favor of wiping out terror is simplistic, yet just.