Across the Pond


    Neville Chamberlain, en Español
    Spain's new leader is an anti-American appeaser.

    Saturday, March 20, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

    MADRID--Spain will have a new government now: It is Socialist, as we know, and vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq. The prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is an old-fashioned European man of the left: pacifist in his "distaste" for war, and deeply anti-American in his posturing and rhetoric, to say nothing of his innermost instincts. If one were, as a laboratory experiment, to manufacture precisely the sort of Spanish leader the U.S. would find most uncooperative at this juncture in history, he would resemble Mr. Zapatero almost exactly.

    The Popular Party, which lost, was by contrast a standard-bearer for the most pro-American policies in Spain's democratic history. Its departing leader, Jose Maria Aznar, was George W. Bush's foremost European ally--in this he was no less constant than Tony Blair--and a man who believed passionately in an Atlanticist direction for Spain. An alliance with the U.S., he knew, was also the way to restore to Spain a modicum of her old clout in the world--as well as to free Spain from the asphyxiating grip of France. And as all Americans know, he believed in the prosecution of the war against terror, of which he saw the war in Iraq as an inseparable part.

    So where does this leave the Spanish-American alliance, so refreshing in its departure from the "Old European" mold, and so effective in its harmony between Messrs. Aznar and Bush? What will the impact of the Socialist victory be on the foreign policy (such as it is) of the European Union, which has been at its least anti-American in years, thanks to the muscular Atlanticism of Mr. Aznar and Tony Blair? And what is Washington to make of--and to do about--the manner in which the Socialists exploited last week's terrorist attacks in Madrid?
    The Socialist Party took a free ride on that atrocity and placed blame for the deaths on the governing Popular Party for having aligned itself with the U.S. and British governments on Iraq. Mr. Zapatero's message to Spain's electorate on the eve of the election was as simple and powerful as it was invidious: We have been attacked for siding with the U.S. in Iraq. More ire was directed at America than at those who slaughtered innocent Spaniards.

    If the Socialist Party were to win, voters were told, Spanish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq and any further Islamist terrorist attacks avoided. The ethical implications of such a stand didn't make much of an impact on the voters. The fact that al Qaeda may have killed 200 people in Madrid and a contender for power reacted by promising retreat and not retaliation was seen--in the terrible shadow of the event--as a good option by a majority of the electorate. But the message to al Qaeda from our Spanish "Neville Chamberlain" was: If you manage to strike at us, we will run away.

    Early on Monday morning, the prime minister-elect, Mr. Zapatero, announced that all Spanish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by June 30. He also said that "Blair and Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism. . . . You can't organize a war with lies," before going on to declare that he would "try to restore magnificent relations with France." The implications of all this for bilateral Spain-U.S. relations could not be more clear.

    The Socialist Party believes that it was wrong for Spain to become a close ally of the U.S. over the last few years, and those ties will be loosened forthwith. The Spanish left has frequently depicted the Bush administration as a bunch of warmongers seeking to expand U.S. imperialism around the globe. The left's policies are so radical that when, in January, Mr. Zapatero asked to be received by his fellow socialist colleague Tony Blair as a boost for his election campaign, Downing Street turned down the request. This happened even as Mr. Blair found time to host Mariano Rajoy, Mr. Aznar's presumptive successor, for breakfast.

    Washington had better take careful note. The Spanish Socialist party has not the slightest interest in trying to save the privileged relationship that Spain and the U.S. have had during the last four years. On the contrary, Mr. Zapatero is determined to put Spain back into the fold of France--back, in fact, to where Spain's foreign policy had been for 200 years until Mr. Aznar decided to stand up and give Madrid its own voice. Spain will now, once more, be infantilized as France's junior partner--or, to put it bluntly, will become France's Sancho Panza. (Dominique de Villepin must be uncorking champagne by the caseload. Spain will be pliant again; all's well with the world.)

    A few European governments will be delighted to see the volte-face in Spain's foreign policy. Five days before the Spanish elections, France's Le Monde newspaper, an icon of Europe's left-wing intellectuals, published a two-page interview with Mr. Aznar under the front-page headline "The lesson of Jose Maria Aznar to the French right." France's Gaullist president, Jacques Chirac, who never even tried to conceal the disgust Mr. Aznar's policies provoked in him, is likely to receive Mr. Zapatero with a big-brotherly hug.

    The same will happen with Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's chancellor, and the leaders of a few other middle-sized European countries. The implications for other European leaders who took a stand like Mr. Aznar's on Iraq--Mr. Blair, Silvio Berlusconi or Portugal's Jose Manuel Durao Barroso--are transparent. What if terrorists strike next in London, or in Rome, or Lisbon, and the opposition parties there say--as they did in Spain on March 11--"We told you so!"

    The demise of the U.S.-Spain alliance will be bad for Madrid. Prime Minister Aznar visited the White House more times than all the previous heads of the Spanish government combined. He created a relationship that was decisive when Morocco invaded a Spanish-held island off its coast in July 2002. European allies, headed by France, ignored Spain's plea for diplomatic support, claiming it was a purely bilateral dispute. Secretary of State Colin Powell had to act as a go-between for Madrid and Morocco and conferred American approval as Spanish troops retook the island.

    Furthermore, U.S. intelligence cooperation in the fight against Basque terrorism has been decisive in many successful strikes by the Spanish police, which now has ETA virtually surrounded. All of that could now be lost.

    The U.S. stands to suffer, too, from the "Zapatero effect." In December 2002, it was the Spanish navy that so expertly intercepted a North Korean ship bearing Scuds destined for Yemen. And Spanish troops, as everyone knows, have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in Iraq. On the political stage--whether in Brussels or at the U.N. Security Council--Washington has relied on Spain to break France's lock on European foreign policy.
    There is still a chance that relations between Madrid and Washington will not take a calamitous course in the long term--and that is if John Kerry wins in the U.S. elections in November. Spanish Socialists are praying that the Bush administration will depart in defeat, and are looking forward to Mr. Kerry with an unseemly impatience. A Kerry administration, they hope, will accept--and even welcome--the new soft approach of the government in Madrid. After all, how is Mr. Kerry's foreign policy different from Mr. Zapatero's?

    In the meantime, the U.S. must prepare for drastically reduced cooperation from Madrid, and start to plan for the departure of Spanish troops from Iraq. Spain is no more a pillar in the war against terror, and Washington had better get used to it.

    Mr. Perez-Maura is assistant editor of the Spanish daily ABC.

    I ran across this editorial from Spain and I'm looking for comments specifically to this article. I thoroughly understand opposition to the war in Iraq and their new leader wanting to withdraw troops from Iraq but I also feel that Al-qaeda has won by bullying and terrorizing the people of Spain. For some reason I'm picturing Al-aqaeda sitting around on pillows high-fiving each other as they did after 9/11. Well, they didn't actually high-five but if anyone remembers the video tape of Bin Ladin smiling and bragging about how the planes hit the twin towers just as he had planned or even better I have a feeling there is a similar celebration in their cave now.

    And what's up with this loyality that Al-qaeda has with Iraq or is it just b/c Al-qaeda hates the US. I was told that there is no connection between Al-qaeda and Iraq.

  2. 12 Comments

  3. by   movealong
    I think the idea in Spain was that their former leader joined in with the war against Iraq, although something like 90% of Spanaish citizens did not support the war. Their leader did not represent them. That was the main point. The train bombings were just the icing on the cake, so to speak. Their countrymen are getting killing for particpating in a war the general populace wanted no part of from the beginning.

    I don't believe the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was a positive for Al-queda per se. Not any more than anti-war rallies mean that those attending were for saddam.
  4. by   donmurray
    This Spanish paper for English ex-pats appears more even handed in its approach to accuracy.


    PSOE requires the support of Nationalists to form government


    Sr Zapatero, as he is known on the political scene, appeared at the PSOE headquarters on Calle Ferraz in Madrid at 23.00 on Sunday to proclaim the Socialist victory, not before requesting a minute's silence in remembrance of the terrorists' victims. He claimed the Spanish people had decided it was 'a time of change, the time for a new approach' and reassured everyone that the fight against terrorism would continue to be the main priority.

    As expected, participation levels increased and reached 77.22 per cent of the electorate, but the results were far from those forecast. The PSOE obtained 164 seats, 39 more than in 2000, thanks to 10,909,687 votes that represented 42.64 per cent of the electorate.

    The PP obtained 9,630,512 votes (37.64 per cent of the electorate) granting the centre-right wing party 148 seats, 34 less than in 2000. No surveys, even those carried out among those leaving the polling stations on Sunday, forecast such a turnover.



    The commotion caused by the attacks added to the serious doubts cast on the PP government's handling of information regarding who was responsible for the explosions, and led many voters to change their opinion at the last minute while thousands of undecided voters, mainly young people, made their minds up.

    The last poll surveys allowed before the election day (carried out a week earlier) continued to give the PP a comfortable victory and the only question was if José María Aznar's successor, Mariano Rajoy, would be able to renew the PP's overall majority obtained in 2000.

    Thursday's terrorist attacks brought the campaign to an unexpected end and the development of issues over the following three days saw a complete turn in citizens' approach to the ballot box. Many looked upon the Home Office's initial insistence that Basque terrorists, despite serious doubts, were behind the attack as an attempt to hide information. The arrest of five people of Islamic origin on Saturday and the finding of a videocassette in which al-Qa'ida claimed responsibility saw thousands demonstrate outside PP offices throughout Spain accusing the government of lying and that the Iraq war was the cause for the attacks - that feeling proved to have a great impact on the following day's election.
  5. by   Mkue
    According to Don's article Sr Zapatero stated that "the fight against terrorism would continue to be the main priority".
  6. by   Mkue
    Zapatero Rejects Kerry Call on Iraq Troops

    Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tonight rejected US Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry's call for him to reconsider plans to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

    Zapatero, the Socialist who won Sunday's general election, noted that he had campaigned on a pledge to withdraw those 1,300 troops unless the United Nations takes charge in Iraq, and did not devise the plan simply because of last week's terrorist bombings in Madrid.

    "My commitment is my commitment," Zapatero said in a television interview.

    He added that he wanted "the best relations with the United States".

    Kerry yesterday joined other politicians in the US in expressing alarm over Zapatero's insistence on bringing home the troops by June 30 when their mandate runs out unless the UN steps in.

    Some Americans said Spain would be appeasing terrorists if it went ahead with the plan.

    "Maybe John Kerry does not know - but I am happy to explain it to him - that my commitment to withdraw the troops goes back before the tragic, dramatic terrorist attack," Zapatero said.

    "If the United Nations does not take over the situation and there is not a rethinking of this chaotic occupation we are living through, in which there are more dead in the occupation than in the war phase, the Spanish troops are going to return to Spain", Zapatero said.

    He also pledged to be relentless against terrorism.

    "Terrorists have to know that (in Spain) there is going to be a government that is inflexible with terrorism and that wherever they are, they will be hunted down. This has been my policy since I was leader of the opposition."

    According to the Scotsman, Zapatero had planned to withdraw troops prior to the bombing.
  7. by   elkpark
    I've read in several different sources since the Spanish election that the results were not about "appeasing" or "caving in" to Al Quaeda, but entirely internal: the previous adminstration took the country into the Iraq war even though a large majority of the population (90% is the figure that seems to get tossed around) was opposed to it, and then, more recently, lied and covered up about the evidence it did have regarding the bombings ...

    Any lesson for Shrub and his cronies in this??? (But how likely that they would get it? )
  8. by   fergus51
    Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of people in the world who don't think the war in Iraq had anything to do with the war on terror. It was Bush who turned Iraq into the terrorist hotbed it is today.
  9. by   donmurray
    A free people who exercise their democratic right to vote as they please are labelled appeasers and worse because they chose "wrongly?"
  10. by   fergus51
    Well Don, it's because you're either "with" Bush or with the terrorists. You and Blair are still ok, but us Canucks are terrorist lovers apparently.

    We want democracy in Iraq, but complain about it in Spain....
  11. by   Mkue
    Personally, I don't like to see countries run away from Terrorists or back down to appease them. What I now know is that Zapatero had promised the people before the election that he would withdraw the troops, even before the bombing. I don't see that as backing down..or running away from Terrorists, he is following through with his promise to the people who elected him. He has stated that he will continue to fight the war on terrorism which I believe is extremely important.

    I'm just glad to see that he is committed to join in the world wide fight against terrorism.
  12. by   donmurray
    "!Its departing leader, Jose Maria Aznar, was George W. Bush's foremost European ally--in this he was no less constant than Tony Blair--and a man who believed passionately in an Atlanticist direction for Spain. An alliance with the U.S., he knew, was also the way to restore to Spain a modicum of her old clout in the world"

    This is certainly how Britain has maintained her "clout", over the years, but some might see this as appeasement of America.
  13. by   fergus51
    No Don, if you bend over for Bush you're a visionnary. If you choose to do what you think is right for your own country you're a terrorist appeaser.... Honestly, you Scotts must not have gotten the memo

    I'm with Marie on this one. The way the media here has been making Zapato's commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq seem to be a reaction to the Madrid bombings is really misleading. It was a part of his platform from the beginning and something Spaniards seem to have wanted for a long time.
    Last edit by fergus51 on Mar 21, '04
  14. by   roxannekkb
    Quote from mkue
    Personally, I don't like to see countries run away from Terrorists or back down to appease them. What I now know is that Zapatero had promised the people before the election that he would withdraw the troops, even before the bombing. I don't see that as backing down..or running away from Terrorists, he is following through with his promise to the people who elected him. He has stated that he will continue to fight the war on terrorism which I believe is extremely important.

    I'm just glad to see that he is committed to join in the world wide fight against terrorism.
    I would have to agree--Spain (as well as other European nations) are no strangers to terrorism. The Spanish have been dealing with terrorism for decades, and are well aware of what it's all about. Also, Spain, England, France, etc, are all old colonial nations. They've been there, done that.

    This is not something new to the Spanish. True, the railway bombing was the worst they've seen in a long time, but they have been dealing with this sort of thing for a long time. Besides the Basque separatists, they have also dealt with independence movements from their North African colonies, have in their not so distant history a very bloody civil war...and so on.

    As Mkue says, Zapatero is committed to fighting terrorism, as Spain always has been. More than 90% of the Spanish did not support the Iraq war, but their govt didn't listen to them. So they voted him out, as the word democracy indicates--the ability of people to choose. It has nothing to do with appeasement of terrorists, or a love for al-queada, or running away with their tail between their legs.

    And it's not that big of a surprise that Aznar's govt was voted out--it's not like they've been in power for centuries. They've only been in power since 1996, and before that, the socialists were. Political climates change. Britain goes back and forth between parties, so does the US. Italy has had about 100 different governments since WW II!