This morning is not a happy one for me here in Spain. I had not anticipated that Spain’s new president, Jos? Luis Rodr?guez Zapatero, would take the decision about the troops that he did yesterday, and I regret his having taken it.
In fact I was furious with him, since I feel the approriate place to have announced this decision would have been in the Spanish Parliament last Thursday and Friday – during the debate on his ‘canditature’ – where there would have been the possibility of a full and free debate on the decision itself, its timing, and its implications.
Doing it via a televised ‘address to the nation’ only, I feel, reinforces the drift towards ‘backstaging’ the parliament that was already evident during the Aznar presidency.
In any event the outcome would not have been different, but I feel the respect for the democratic process, and respect for all those of us who took the trouble to listen carefully to the arguments during the two day session would have been much greater.
Maybe I form part of a tiny minority, but I can certainly say that on Friday night I went to bed feeling vaguely optimistic, that something significant might have changed for the better in Spain. It was certainly something very new to hear a Spanish president speaking so openly about Spain’s diversity and recognising the importance of respect for all the different identities here. It was very politically correct. Of course I should have known better: this was all before the vote.
Spain is, as the tourist blurb says, ‘different’, and I am not sure I will ever get accustomed to just how different it is.
So last night when I returned home from a pleasant day out to discover just what had been going on in my absence, I was, to say the least, more than a little crestfallen.
It is not simply that I think the decision is a bad one, or that I fail to recognise it as a legitimate one (I think there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Spanish citizens support this decision, including many who voted PP in the elections). It is the timing of the decision more than anything, and the absence of the necessity to take the decision right now which wrankles most with me.
Certainly things in Iraq look none to good. This was predictable some will say. Maybe, would be my answer, but the priority right now shouldn’t be to go over who was right and who was wrong last March – there will be plenty of time to do that later – the priority should be to try and find a way to get out of the mess.
Last week was a hard week for all those concerned about Iraq and its future. The general Middle East atmosphere seems to have taken a nosedive. The decision of George Bush to give explicit support to Sharon’s West Bank aspirations before any talks begin surely made things worse, then the inability to condemn the killing of Rantissi simply poured more oil on already troubled water.
Really the US seems to have boxed itself into a position of wanting to have its cake and eat it with its current policy of treating Israel/Palestine and Iraq as two separate, and scarcely related questions. From where I am sitting you can either openly back Sharon (which means you cannot be seen as impartial by the majority of Arab states and their citizens), or you can be the midwife of democracy in Iraq: what you cannot do is be both at the same time.
It may be totally lamentable, but the reality is that the majority of Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites (the Khurds are a different case altogether) identify with the Palestinians, and see Sharon as their enemy. Given this, to be seen to be siding with Sharon means you are not seen as sufficiently impartial to be the guarantor of any provisional authority in Iraq. So you have to choose. I feel George Bush has already chosen.
This means the UN will now more or less inevitably have to assume the central responsibility in Iraq (something which some of us have been calling for from day one of the post-war epoch).
Which brings us back to Zapatero’s timing. Given that there exists now a real and serious possibility of a new resolution at the UN, and of a new relationship post 1 July: why this rush? There is something here I don’t understand.
If this is simply for reasons of pressure from within PSOE and the farther left IU, then I am even more preoccupied, since this would mean that what the new PP leader Mariano Rajoy is alledging, that this government will be weak and unstable, may well turn out to be true.
The real problems arise with the consequences of this decision.
Firstly despite Zappatero’s declarations that he will give a high priority to fighting terrorism, does he recognise that this implies a willingness to act outside the confines of the Spanish state? Is he simply so naive that he imagines that if you sit back and wait, no-one will ever come and do you harm. Does he really believe that the Al-Qaeda problem only exists becuase of the Iraq war? What will he do if Morroccan fundamentalists start to demand the return of Ceuta and Melilla (which by rights do not really belong to Spain, they are in fact Europe’s last colonial remnant in North Africa).
You do not have to sympathise with Gerorge Bush’s feeling that he ‘was tired of swatting flies’ to see that a more systematic approach to terrorism is required, and that you cannot resolve all problems locally.
Secondly, one has to be preoccupied about the implications of all this for the other European coalition partners. The pressure on the Italians, Bulgarians, Poles, Ukrainians etc will now only intensify. Certainly the Iraq participation is also controversial in these countries. How will the Spanish feel if there are terrorist attacks in these countries, or if their citizens are kidnapped in Iraq?
Thirdly what about constitutional responsibilty for the actions of your predecessors? Maybe PSOE didn’t agree with the war, but the Spanish state participated on behalf of all its citizens. Now Iraq is a mess. It seems to me you cannot simply walk away (and George Bush please take note) and say either it wasn’t me, or, oh well it didn’t work out. There is too much at stake here for that. Irrespective of whether Iraq was a ‘home’ for terrorists before the war, it now is one, and a bad outcome on the type of future government Iraq has would certainly mean this could become much, much worse.
Lastly, what defence is Zapatero leaving himself in the event of a future external terrorist attack on Spain? How will he persuade the Spanish people if he has a change of heart? Where will Spain look for help? These are important and difficult questions for Spain.
Yesterday was a bad day for Spain, a bad day for democracy, and a bad day for the future of Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
Who says this, me certainly, but also Aznar on Fox News:
“That will not be good for Spain, not a good day for the coalition, and a very good day for those who don’t want stability and democracy in Iraq,”
I never thought I would live to see the day I was agreeing with him about something, but there you are, this is what fair and balanced really means.
A bad decision. I only hope we will not all live to profoundly regret it.