Saturday, July 28, 2007

Spain has painted itself into a corner

There is an excellent article on Front Page Magazine by Soeren Kern about how serious mistakes by its socialist government have damaged Spain's standing in the world. Here is the first paragraph:

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodrique's Zapatero and his political spin doctors have been especially busy this summer. Indeed, they have been making furious rounds on the national television talk show circuit, trying to explain to an increasingly skeptical Spanish public just why the Socialist government’s “progressive” foreign policy of coddling third world despots has turned Spain into one of the most marginalized countries in the European Union.

He goes on to detail Spain's relationship with Cuba in particular has worked to marginalize Spain in the European Union and seriously damaged its relationship with the United States.

As I read through the article several points leapt out at me. One of them was this. The socialist government came to power in Spain after the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Spain was targeted by al Qaeda for several reasons.

One is that Spain was a part of the coalition of nations taking part in military actions in Iraq and the bombings were intended to punish the Spanish people. Another is that Spain was nearing elections and the bombings were an attempt to intimidate Spanish voters into defeating the conservative Partido Popular (People's Party) and replacing them with the leftist Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), who the terrorists believed - correctly as it turned out - would be likely to surrender and stop Spanish participation in the War on Terror.

The final reason that Spain was targeted is often overlooked. The bombings were revenge for the Reconquista, the "seven-and-a-half century long process by which Christians reconquered the Iberian peninsula".

Islamists believe that all the earth belongs to Islam with some parts of it still awaiting conversion or conquest. Any place which has ever been under Muslim control must forever remain under Muslim control and any removal of Muslim control over any area is an outrage, an affront to Allah and absolutely intolerable. It should also (if Muslim theology is correct - which it isn't) be impossible, but that's a topic for another post.

To the Islamist mind Spain and Portugal are Muslim territory which is being occupied by infidels in exactly the same way as Israel. Israel occupies a larger place in the Muslim mind because it was created more recently, is a nation specifically of the hated Jews and is actually on Middle Eastern soil, but make no mistake, Spain, the rest of Europe and the rest of the world are on their list as well.

Another aspect of Spain's socialist government's foreign policy has been to seek closer ties to dictatorial regimes like Castro's Cuba and Venesuala's Hugo Chavez:

During his first three years in office, Zapatero has established a consistent practice of reaching out to authoritarian regimes at the expense of democratic states: Venezuela in lieu of Colombia; Iran and Syria in lieu of Israel; and so on. Indeed, Spaniards increasingly are asking themselves why Spain’s Socialists insist on forging alliances with authoritarian regimes when that support is beginning to damage Spain’s own reputation in the EU and elsewhere.

Although Spanish political commentators are deeply divided on how to answer that question, in the case of Cuba, most analysts seem to agree that three main issues are driving Spanish foreign policy on Cuba: Oil, nostalgia and politics.

The issue of oil is straightforward. In 2004, Spain’s energy giant Repsol-YPF found signs of oil in the deep waters off Cuban shores. Repsol, which has six concession blocks along a narrow sector of the Gulf of Mexico off Cuba’s northwestern coast, says it will spend more than $40 million on the project, but believes its investment could yield up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil below the seabed. Repsol’s venture, which is established with Cubapetroleo, a company owned by the Cuban government, is now bidding for new oil contracts in Cuban waters. Thus it comes as no surprise that a number of EU countries suspect that Spain’s love affair with Castro has more to do with money than with principle, and that its mantra that dialogue with the dictator is a fig leaf for more cynical interests.

Stop for a moment and gaze in wonder at the current situation. Spain has managed to make itself appear more immoral, more greedy and more craven than the rest of the European Union! Try and wrap your mind around the concept. It's like being a skankier than Paris Hilton, more corrupt than the New Orleans Police Department, or a bigger ass-clown than Ron Paul.

Another point which drew my attention was Mr. Kern's explanation for the Spanish peoples' dislike of the United States:

Then there is the issue of nostalgia-based anti-Americanism. Although it has been more than 100 years since Spain lost Cuba, a highly prized Spanish colonial possession for more than 400 years, in the Spanish-American War of 1898, many Spaniards still have an almost mythical attachment to the island. Indeed, lingering resentment over the loss of Cuba, which marked the definitive end to the Spanish Empire, is often cited as the root source of anti-Americanism in contemporary Spain. In this context, many Spanish leftists glorify Castro as a revolutionary hero who has bravely resisted American efforts to promote democracy on the island.
All hail the hero who bravely resists democracy!

Mr. Kern sums his article up:

Finally, there is the issue of politics, both foreign and domestic. Since taking office, Zapatero has shifted Spain’s long-standing Atlanticist foreign policy to one focused almost exclusively on Europe. This precipitous policy shift has had disastrous results: Not only has it severely damaged Spain’s relationship with the United States, it has also cost Spain much of its credibility in Europe.

In the main, Zapatero’s foreign policy has been motivated a desire to prove that the Socialists are better than the center-right opposition Popular Party at running Spanish foreign policy. The problem for Spain is that Zapatero has made it personal, turning Spanish foreign policymaking into an obsession that has become detached from common sense.

Thus the main beneficiaries of Spanish foreign policy have been authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. It comes as no big surprise that this, in turn, has damaged Spain’s credibility with other EU countries, most of which are trying to forge a more responsible European foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States.

Isn't that interesting. European leaders are attempting to "forge a more responsible European foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States." I thought that George W Bush had made the United States a global pariah. Could the truth be that Europe's leaders have finally grown up enough to realize that they only remained free through the 20th century because of American strength and that only American strength will keep them free through the 21st?

Could Europe, at least the part governed by grownups, be finally aware that the true source of the strain on transatlantic relations does not reside in the White House but is rather to be found in the mirror?

Please someone run and tell John Kerry, but take a camcorder because I want to see him drop dead from the shock.

Soeren Kern is the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the leading foreign affairs think tanks in Spain. As an essayist on the roles of America and Europe in the world, his objective is to help Spaniards (and other Europeans) better understand the ins and outs of American foreign policy, and vice versa.