The loneliness of José María Aznar.

The loneliness of José María Aznar.

The loneliness of José María Aznar.

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 21 2003 10:21 PM

The Aznar Inquisition

On Monday, Britain's Daily Mirror plastered a huge color portrait of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and José María Aznar on its cover. The three were caught in an Azores summit smile, leading the Mirror to splash the words "Moment of Madness: Blair, Bush and Aznar laugh us into war" across the photograph. Under their portraits, three-little-monkeys style, were the captions, "Hear no peace. See no peace. Speak no peace." Back in Spain, Prime Minister Aznar is probably pining for the company of his pals—or perhaps even for the Mirror's barracking—since the early days of the war have seen him isolated and under attack in his homeland.

Advertisement

In an address to the nation Thursday, Aznar acknowledged that the majority of the Spanish public opposes the war, but he said he had pledged support for the U.S.-led attack because the threat of international terrorism and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction leaves no room for "neutrality, indifference, or impartiality." Spain sent 900 troops to the Gulf, but Aznar assured the nation they would only be used to "provide humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced by the conflict" and would not be involved in combat operations. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the Spanish streets, and ABC reported Friday that police in central Madrid used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who were "calling for an end to the bombing and shouting insults and slogans against the government."

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

The opposition Socialist Party assailed the government for its pro-U.S. stance. Party leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero led an attempt to prevent the United States from using its bases in Spain during the current conflict, a move La Razón dismissed:

Rodríguez Zapatero has a perfect right to disagree with the government's decisions. … And he can, legitimately, take advantage of elections to attack [Aznar's Popular Party] and to exploit an issue that elicits a profound response on the streets. … This legitimacy does not allow him to … confuse public opinion with opportunistic calls of "[U.S.] bases out!" … The bases are regulated by a treaty made [years ago] by the Socialist Party and recently renewed by the PP government. It's a promise that we must keep, and even if José María Aznar had closed ranks with France and Germany, nothing would have changed this situation.

An editorial in El País, which traditionally supports the socialists, rejected Aznar's reasoning. "That the majority of Spanish society and all the political parties except [Aznar's Popular Party] are against the war doesn't mean they are "neutral [or] indifferent. … They weren't neutral, indifferent, or impartial about the choice between war and the frustrated opportunity to disarm Iraq peaceably, nor between freedom and Saddam Hussein. The underlying Manichean choice between Bush and Saddam in Aznar's propaganda is false. Just as it is false to blame the war on [Saddam] because he didn't leave power."

Barcelona's El  Periódico de Catalunya said Aznar is out of touch with the will of the Spanish people as it is "being expressed in the streets." He is "locked in his immense solitude when he insists that the U.S. invasion is a disarmament operation, alleges that Spanish diplomatic maneuvers contributed to European unity, and assures us that the war which has just begun—without the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council—serves to "restabilize international law." The editorial concluded, "[In a choice] between an illegal war and true respect for the rules of coexistence between nations, neutrality isn't an option."

La Vanguardia, also of Barcelona, observed that international political leaders' reactions to the outbreak of war were predictable, "But it is difficult not to feel a certain skepticism about the remarks of leaders like Vladimir Putin, who ostentatiously beat his breast about the war in Iraq when the respect for human rights that he has shown to his own citizens has so much room for improvement."

El Mundo dismissed the U.S. attack on Iraq as "bellicose madness that must end as soon as possible." The editorial declared the assault as "unilateral, unjust, arbitrary, disproportionate, and at the margin of international law." It concluded:

José María Aznar said that we cannot stay "neutral or impartial" in this conflict. We completely agree. And so we ally ourselves with those who are against the war and in favor of peace. In this conflict there is one aggressor, which is the Bush administration, and one aggrieved nation, which is Iraq. We are convinced that the problems that this act of neocolonialism will generate are worse that those they are supposed to solve, and so, sooner or later, the voters will pass the bill to the ones who have set the world on an adventure whose true objective is the turn Iraq into a puppet regime of the United States.