“Hey Buddy, if only they knew
we’re makin’ it up as we go along!
The events of the past week in Spain have been extraordinary for so many reasons. First, the ferocity and unparalleled devastation of the bombings; second, the utter foolishness of the conservative Spanish government in clinging to an ETA connection well after it no longer made any sense; third, the drubbing that the Bush Administration took in seeing Aznar, a hard and fast ally in the Iraq War, fall hard and fall fast.
Finally, I was shocked that the U.S. media, including as august a publication as the New York Times, kept telling us right up to the Sunday election that the Conservatives were well ahead in the polls and were favored to win by a wide margin. In its March 13th edition, the Times‘ Elaine Sciolino wrote in Grieving Crowds in Spain Seethe at Train Attacks:
Mariano Rajoy, the handpicked successor of Prime Minister José María Aznar and the candidate of the governing Popular Party, is in the lead. Mr. Rajoy has enjoyed a comfortable lead of up to 8 percentage points in recent polls. But a poll published on Sunday by the polling agency Sigma Dos and commissioned by El Mundo showed that the Socialists were gaining on the Popular Party, reducing its lead to 4.5 percent.
Boy were they asleep at the wheel! The polls were quoted as giving the Conservatives a 5-7 point edge over the Socialists. Instead, that was the margin of the Socialist victory. To have a 10-14 point switch in a matter of days is extraordinary. And you mean to tell me no one in the world media could detect this shift as it was happening?? I say this was a pathetic media performance.
There has been much ridiculous and distorted posturing by Republicans about the moral lesson to be learned from both the bombing and the conservatives electoral defeat. That brightest light among foreign policy analysts, House Speaker Denny Hastert said, as quoted in the New York Times’ U.S. Lawmakers Blame Spain, Battle Over Iraq:
Here is a country that stood against terrorism, and had a huge terrorist act within their country, and they chose to change their government and to in a sense appease terrorists.
No, Denny, afraid you got it all wrong. Here is a right wing government which, in the aftermath of the bombing refused to acknowledge what was obvious even to the least discering among us: that the terrorist bombing had nothing to do with ETA. Clearly, Aznar and his government WANTED the bombing to have an ETA connection because they, like Bush, feel most comfortable running on a domestic terrorism platform.
But almost from Day 1, the evidence pointed away from ETA and toward Al Qaeda:
1. ETA never sponsors multiple, coordinated attacks of the sort perpetrated last week
2. ETA almost always precedes its bombings with a warning in order to minimize civilian casualties (there was no warning last week)
3. ETA activates its bombs directly through cell phone calls (last week’s bombs were activated by alarm clocks connected to cell phones)
4. ETA always takes credit for its attacks; here ETA disclaimed responsibility from the very start
Even that pontificating, self-important windbag, Tom Friedman, has taken up with the Republicans by writing in Axis of Appeasement in today’s Times:
The new Spanish government’s decision to respond to the attack by Al Qaeda by going ahead with plans to pull its troops from Iraq constitutes the most dangerous moment we’ve faced since 9/11. It’s what happens when the Axis of Evil intersects with the Axis of Appeasement and the Axis of Incompetence.
Oh, please Tom–give me a break! For an otherwise intelligent person, you sure can spout a load of drivel sometimes.
The Spanish were angry at José María Aznar because they felt he misled them about the bombings, trying to throw guilt on ETA and away from Al Qaeda. The Republicans certainly don’t want anyone here to think about throwing somebody out of office because he was misleading about Al Qaeda.
Dowd notes that since we haven’t been able to find WMD in Iraq, Bush has turned to touting the flowering of Iraqi democracy as the most important reason for going to war. She slying and deliciously comments: “But when our [Spanish] allies engage in democracy, some Republicans mock them as lily-livered.” I think Maureen Dowd is the wittiest, shrewdest and most incisive columinst at the Times bar none.
The Spanish people had every right to doubt the government’s version of events since it flew in the face of everything people knew of what had happened. One of the primary rules of modern politics is that elected leaders who face a crisis must be as accurate as possible, must reveal as much as they know, and must not lie or conceal facts that are inconvenient politically. Aznar did the exact opposite and so richly deserved his political fate.
Bush and the Republicans are, as usual, taking a completely wrong lesson from this tragedy. Instead of calling the Spaniards craven capitulators to international terrorism, they should be listening to to the intelligent, and carefully modulated advice offered by the new Prime Minister Zapatero: if you want our continued help go to the UN or NATO and gather an international consensus behind your policy. Forge a true global alliance with the world’s major states and powers and agree on an agenda for stablizing Iraq. That’s the lesson that George Bush should be learning from the defeat of his Spanish ally, but there’s little likelihood of that happening, I’m afraid.
Another lesson that Bush should learn is that you cannot eternally sustain a policy which no longer has the support of the majority of your constituents. Aznar pursued his toadying support for Bush’s Iraq policy in the face of 80-90% opposition from Spaniards. In the U.S., opposition is nowhere near as high, but it grows by the day. Perhaps John Kerry will rap this lesson on Bush’s knuckles come Election Day.