A loyal ally
Last week wasn’t a bad one for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. To his great relief, Barak Obama won the US presidential elections thus removing the threat of at least another four years of frosty relations between the two countries. And France’s Nicolas Sarkozy has offered one of the two places he commands – as current European president as well as president of a G-7 – at the G-20 summit to be held in Washington on November 15th. Sr Zapatero had not been invited to the summit because Spain does not belong to the G-20 group of countries, which consists of the seven most developed countries (Spain ranks 8th), Russia, the EU as a bloc and the most important emerging economies. Ever since the summit was announced, Sr Zapatero has been lobbying all and sundry to get an invitation, and the Spanish media have attributed his absence to vindictiveness on the part of George W Bush. They claim he has never forgiven Sr Zapatero for withdrawing the Spanish troops from Iraq but it’s not quite that simple. Throughout the 2004 general election campaign, Sr Zapatero said he would withdraw the troops by the end of June that year, if the United Nations had not taken over the running of Iraq from the US. The war was not popular and the decision to send peace-keeping troops to Iraq was the biggest mistake former President Jose Maria Aznar ever made during his eight years in government. What Sr Zapatero did the day after he was officially sworn in was to announce the immediate withdrawal of the troops – a slightly different scenario from the one he promised. The Madrid train bombing, which killed 191 people and injured another 1800 or so, by Islamist radicals happened just three days before the election and most Western leaders viewed Spain’s withdrawal as a capitulation to the terrorists. Then during a visit to Algeria a few weeks later, he made matters worse by publicly urging all US allies to follow suit – a definite diplomatic no-no. Sr Zapatero’s political judgement was further questioned when his government allowed some 850,000 illegal immigrants to become legal in 2005 – thus creating an open door effect the rest of Europe dreaded. In fact, during the year following the legalisation process the influx of illegal immigrants more than quadrupled. Meanwhile, Sr Zapatero had openly backed John Kerry in the US 2004 general election – Bush was re-elected. He publicly rooted for Gerhard Schroeder in the German general election in 2005, which Angela Merkel won – and for Segolene Royal in the 2007 French general election, which Nicolas Sarkozy won. Football fans wanted him banned from attending last year’s European Cup between Spain and Germany because of his tendency to back the loser. He also alienated Tony Blair when it was leaked to the press that his closest advisers were given to referring to the UK PM as “that gilipollas (s**thead)”. While Bush can be blamed for many things, Zapatero’s poor international image is not one of them. Last week, he told a press conference that he would be a friend and loyal ally of Barak Obama, to the amusement of many political observers here. As one said – with friends like him, who needs enemies. Another asked – will he go as far as sending the troops back to Iraq? Probably not, because Obama wants to bring the US troops home within 16 months. Obama has also said he wants to establish good relations with Spain, although Zapatero was not among the world leaders he rang last Thursday. However, the next day Obama broke an eight-year-long silence and called Madrid. The sigh of relief at the PM’s official La Moncloa residence in Madrid could be heard all over the country. Hooray, we’re back in from the cold.