José María Aznar, the right wing prime minister of Spain who was the only European leader to join George Bush and Tony Blair in their invasion of Iraq, paid the price for his defiance of Spanish public opinion on March 14, when the Spanish electorate voted him out of office.
José María Aznar, the right wing prime minister of Spain who was the only European leader to join George Bush and Tony Blair in their invasion of Iraq, paid the price for his defiance of Spanish public opinion on March 14, when the Spanish electorate voted him out of office. In an election overshadowed by the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid three days earlier, in which over 200 people were killed, Spaniards opted to elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, leader of the left-wing Socialist party, in Aznar’s place. Zapatero campaigned on the basis of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, a promise he has pledged to keep now that he is in office, unless the administration of Iraq is transferred from the US to the UN. Aznar joined the US-led invasion of Iraq despite the opposition of 90 percent of Spaniards.
America’s response to the election result was immediate, vicious and arrogant, provoking more anger. Dennis Hastert, the most senior Republican in the US Congress, declared "Here’s a country who 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." General Richard Myers, the chairman of the UN Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "If you look back through history and... at situations that require people to stand up and lead and be counted against various threats, [you see that] appeasement just hasn’t worked... Weakness is provocative."
The US’s message is clear: to oppose the war against Iraq and US policy in general makes you a coward and an instrument of al-Qa’ida. It is unacceptable to the US that any people should exercise its democratic right to vote a pro-American government out of power just because its policies fly in the face of the wishes of its own people. If Spain had been a Latin American or African country, Zapatero would now be looking nervously over his shoulder for signs of an American-sponsored military coup.
Analyses of the Spanish election have focused on the Madrid bombing and its aftermath. The bombing took place during the morning rush hour of March 11, just three days before the polling. Government spokesmen rushed to blame ETA, Spain’s indigenous Basque militant separatist group. Initially most observers and commentators agreed, although there were notable exceptions. Dr Francisco Romero of the London Metropolitan University, speaking on BBC television just hours after the bombing, was among the few commentators who immediately doubted ETA’s involvement, and suggested that the Aznar government might have political reasons for wanting to blame ETA rather than acknowledging the possibility that al-Qa’ida were responsible. In the event, evidence linking the bombing to al-Qa’ida gradually emerged, while the government was seen to be absolutely determined to blame ETA. Most analysts agree that this government strategy ended up working against Aznar’s right-wing Popular Party (PP) as the Spanish people realised they were being lied to about the greatest terrorist atrocity in their history.
However, Aznar’s government’s record of cooperating with the US despite public opinion was also a factor. Like Tony Blair, he calculated that his country’s interests would best be served by going along with the global hegemon, regardless of right or wrong, legal or illegal, popular or unpopular. This alienated large sections of Spain’s population, making possible the dramatic election result. Like the Spanish, many Americans and Britons have also come to realise that their governments took them to war on the basis of lies and misinformation, and are far more guilty over the last few years of manipulating intelligence about terrorism for political purposes than Aznar was for a few short days.
For both Bush and Blair, it would need some dramatic and unforeseen circumstance to result in their actually being voted out of office in the elections they must face soon. But then, that is what people would have said about Jose Maria Aznar four days before the polls.