The Pain In Spain
Published: Mar 22 2004
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
Do you doubt that George Bush's America is a unique and
alien creature to the rest of the world? If so, then please consider
the White House's trumped-up outrage over John Kerry's assertion
that foreign leaders prefer him to Bush.
Anyone who has friends abroad knows that Bush is, at the very
best, a barely-tolerated laughingstock, even among fellow
conservatives across the pond. But that vintage
Karl-Rove-manufactured indignation was not for foreigners—it was for
the American electorate.
The very possibility that such a gambit might be helpful in
gaining votes speaks volumes about American political illiteracy.
And so do the wide-ranging denunciations from U.S. elites over the
decision by Spain's voters to oust their rightist government for its
backing of the Bush administration's Iraq war.
The new Spanish premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, was
elected just three days after the terrorist train bombings in Madrid
that killed more than 200. His immediate promise to withdraw Spanish
troops from Iraq was seen in Washington as caving in to Al Qaeda.
"..The Zapateros of Europe... seem bent on validating the crudest
caricatures of 'old European' cowardly decadence," the hawk Edward
Luttwak wrote in The New York Times. And a Washington
Post editorial argued that "the rash response by... Zapatero...
will probably convince the extremists that their attempt to sway
Spanish policy with mass murder succeeded brilliantly."
"The implications of this are fairly staggering," political
psychologist Stanley Renshon of City University of New York told the
Associated Press. "This is the first time that a terrorist act has
influenced a democratic election. This is a gigantic, loud wakeup
call. There's no one they'd like to have out of office more than
George W. Bush."
Such emotional rhetoric has always played well on the American
campaign trail, no matter that they distort the cause and effect and
ignore the thinking behind rational decisions. By all appearances,
the terrorist attacks in Madrid were meant to punish Spain for
participation in an already-unpopular military adventure in a Muslim
country—in this case, at least, a military adventure widely reviled
in much of the world.
Furthermore, the Spanish electorate had every reason to feel
betrayed by the previous government, which apparently bought into
the Bush administration's arguments for going to war with Iraq,
despite the fact that the terrorist threat facing the world clearly
did not emanate from Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime. Yet more
evidence of the scale of Bush's worldwide deception came during
Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview, in which former White House
anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke described the Bush
administration's long-standing obsession with going after Iraq
instead of Al Qaeda. "(Right after 9/11) Rumsfeld was saying we
needed to bomb Iraq. ... We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in
Afghanistan," recounted Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't
any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets
Surely, the Spaniards have every right to regret their leaders'
decision to involve them in the Iraqi quagmire, not just because it
is a quagmire, but because it is a quagmire they were drawn into
under false premises. That is something that people in other
countries have begun to grasp and to talk about in a frank public
discussion that America as a society has yet to join.
While there's still considerable denial going on abroad, if for
no other reason than to maintain a modicum of self-respect after
having caved to considerable White House pressure, virtually every
other member of the "coalition of the willing" is leaning toward the
"coalition of the willing-to-say-no." In Italy, the UK, Australia
and elsewhere, outrage over the subterfuge and deception employed in
selling the war began earlier and has steadily grown more vocal than
in the States. Now, some politicians are being punished, and some
are starting to come clean—even in slightly coded language that puts
the blame on unnamed others. Poland's president Aleksander
Kwasniewski announced March18 that "they deceived us about the
weapons of mass destruction... We were taken for a ride."
In the United States, however, doubts about the Bush Gang and the
quality of its leadership have grown at an excruciatingly slow pace,
suggesting that Americans are truly conflicted about surrendering
their faith in their "war president." Proof came in an early
February Washington Post-ABC News poll which found that 52
percent of Americans believed that Bush is fundamentally truthful,
down from a high of 71 percent in the summer of 2002.
Look more closely at the numbers and a startling contradiction
emerges. Although 70 percent said they think Bush "honestly
believed" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a majority also
think that Bush exaggerated or lied about pre-war intelligence. In
other words, fully a third of those surveyed believe that Bush was
genuinely misled about the existence of WMDs at the same time that
he hyped what evidence he had to make a convincing case to the
world. But how secure could he have been in his decision to go to
war if he felt it necessary to exaggerate and lie about the
evidence? And why shouldn't others reconsider the decisions they
made based on Bush's false representation?
Elsewhere, these kinds of questions are receiving front-page
treatment. An early February poll conducted for the UK's
Independent newspaper found that 54 percent of Britons
believe Prime Minister Tony Blair lied to the country about the
threat from Iraq—and 51 percent of those questioned said they agreed
or strongly agreed "it is now time for Tony Blair to resign and hand
over to someone else."
"Most British voters want PM to quit," ran a headline on an
Associated Press dispatch about that poll.
Maybe I missed it, but I don't see the American media's polling
firms asking questions in such direct, headline-generating terms.
Obviously, absent a parliamentary system, Bush is not likely to
quit. But in a country that was ready to impeach Bush's predecessor
for lying about a consensual sexual affair, one might think that
lying that leads to thousands of unnecessary deaths might warrant a
more vigorous and acute public discussion.
The American public may not have a lot of patience for nuance or
careful analysis. But why doesn't the U.S. media give full play to
such unequivocal statements from abroad as the new Spanish Prime
Minister Zapatero's assertion that "Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush must do
some reflection and self-criticism... You can't organize a war with