September 19, 2008


McCain is criticized for position on Spain (Bryan Bender, September 19, 2008, Boston Globe)

"This is insane," Max Bergmann, deputy director of the liberal National Security Network, said in a statement. "McCain won't meet with a NATO ally, that has nearly 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, that has lost more than 20 soldiers there, has been brutally attacked by Al Qaeda, is incredibly influential in Latin America, has the seventh largest economy in the world, is a DEMOCRACY, and is a large and influential country in the EU. Won't meet with them?"

Zapatero isn't with us, he's against us. Wha sort of American leader would reward that?
Zapatero's Spain: : Spain's problem with terrorism is Europe's: It does not want to defend itself. (Christopher Caldwell, 05/10/2004, Weekly Standard)
LESS THAN THREE DECADES after the end of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, Spaniards are cautious about saying anything against the democratic process--or even against the results of a particular election. Most in the intellectual and political classes are reluctant to say that al Qaeda terrorism wrested a near-certain electoral victory from the party that al Qaeda hoped would lose, and handed power to the antiwar party that al Qaeda (at least according to its "strategy" document, which was intercepted on the Internet by Norwegian authorities) hoped would win. But this Spanish circumspection, admirable in many ways, has produced a chain reaction of self-interested self-deception: And from there it is only a short step to saying that Spain has no continuing problem with terrorism at all.

The Popular party would have won. It did better in absentee ballots this year--those sent by mail before the March 11 explosions--than in the 2000 landslide that gave it an absolute majority. In the days before this year's election, two prominent Socialists, the charismatic Castilian governor José Bono (whom Zapatero would name defense minister) and European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, were jockeying for support as candidates for the PSOE leadership after Zapatero's inevitable loss. A balanced view was given by the longtime president of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, whose Convergencia i Unió party backs neither the governing coalition nor the Popular party opposition. "Let us be clear about this," Pujol said in his office in Barcelona in mid-April. "The victory is legitimate. That cannot be discussed. But without the bombing, the other party probably would have won. March 14 was a legitimate victory but it was also a victory for terrorists."

The best indication of the PSOE's slim prospects going into the election was Zapatero himself. He was the kind of candidate a party runs when it has slim hopes of victory. (Similarly the Popular party's candidate, Mariano Rajoy, was a complaisant, bipartisan fellow, meant to bring the country together after eight years of polarizing rule by Aznar.) Zapatero's investiture speech on April 17 proposed a range of boilerplate center-left reforms that Spain somehow got through the 1990s without (handicapped access, gay marriage) and then proposed giving Spain a few things that it already had (secular education and a law on violence against women). Zapatero nominated a record eight female ministers, called for the advancement of women through an equal rights commission, and promised a "new politics of water." This was a bric-a-brac agenda, the kind of governing proposal a European president would call for if he hadn't expected to have to propose one at all.

With one exception. Zapatero had wooed the nearly 90 percent of Spaniards who opposed their country's participation in the Iraq war. He had promised to bring Spain's troops back from their bases near Najaf unless the U.N. took over operations in Iraq. Now he decided not to run the risk that the U.N. might actually do so. In his first act after taking office, he ordered the troops home. When the opposition asked for a parliamentary debate, he scheduled one for after the troops' return. While the act enraged the United States and the Popular party opposition, Zapatero had already paid that price and would have been crazy (in domestic political terms) to do anything else. When, during the investiture debate, a Progressive party deputy asked him, "Can you explain, once and for all, what you want?" he replied simply: "To take Spain out of the Azores photo, take Spain out of the illegal and unjust war that took place."

THE PHOTO IN QUESTION shows Aznar with George Bush and Tony Blair at the meeting Aznar hosted in the Azores on the eve of the Iraq war. The Spanish often talk of it as Americans do of the photo taken of Michael Dukakis in a tank during the 1988 presidential campaign: as a moment when a man with big pretensions steps into a situation in which his surroundings reveal him as too small for the job. But that was wrong. One didn't have to like the Spanish role in Iraq. But there was nothing preposterous about it.

Aznar is said to distinguish privately between politicians who are serious and those who are simpático, simpático being a synonym for unserious. In eight years in office, he had turned Spain from an unserious country into a serious one, in a way that was most obvious in his handling of the economy. Aznar broke the power of unions, froze the salaries of functionaries, privatized dozens of state enterprises, and won the intellectual argument that lowering taxes was sometimes more responsible than raising them. He entered office in 1996 with unemployment at 22 percent and cut it in half. Half the jobs created in Europe since 1996 have been created in Spain. After the dot-com bust, Spain never dipped into negative growth as other European countries did--and Spain is still growing at twice the European rate. Aznar's hopes of joining the G-8 group of major economies sounded absurd when he took office; now it seems absurd that Canada should have that honor and Spain not. It is true that Aznar received the free gift of monetary stability from the establishment of the Euro; but fiscal stability came from his living up to the E.U. stability-and-growth pact (unlike France and Germany) and balancing his country's budget every year. Zapatero has promised not to change economic course, and chose as his economics minister the highly respected Pedro Solbes, for five years the E.U. economics minister in Brussels, who is unlikely to favor such a change.

In this economic climate, Spaniards began to tell pollsters they were more comfortable with a larger role for Spain on the world stage. In Aznar's view, this meant shifting Spain's allegiances from France and Germany to the United States. Aznar drew benefits for Spain from this partnership. U.S. assistance helped the government deal a serious blow to the Basque terrorist group ETA (presumably through communications intercepts). And it was the United States that mediated an end to the Moroccan army's seizure of the Spanish island of Perejil in July 2002, when Spain's E.U. partners, particularly France and Greece, then just starting its six-month term in the E.U. presidency, proved reluctant to alienate the new Moroccan king.

The idea that Aznar's foreign policy was an aberrant personal enthusiasm that could somehow be excised from the rest of his achievements was never true. But that foreign policy cut against other countries' obsession with building the E.U.--and against the grain of what Spain's intellectual elite considers the country's national identity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2008 10:24 AM
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