19 March 2004

Shock and Awe, from Mesopotamia toMadrid

Asia Times Online also learned from Spanish sources of the crucial democratic role played by King Juan Carlos of Spain. On March 11, the day of the bombings, the king told the Aznar government to admit the Islamist connection publicly. Angel Acebes, the interior minister, was forced to call an impromptu press conference that evening to announce the finding of the van with the Koran tape and the detonators - which happened, according to the Spanish press, at 11am. Only 10 minutes after the press conference, the king went on national television to express his sorrow. And he never mentioned the word 'ETA'.

March 11 changed Europe - and the world - and that's why there was such thundering silence from Washington, now replaced with the infantile hysteria of blaming Spanish voters. It's unbearable for the neo-cons to see there's now a totally different dynamic in the trans-Atlantic relationship. The Blair-Berlusconi-Aznar pro-Washington axis has been reduced to ashes.

The new Spanish prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, with his name still mispronounced by misinformed White House and State Department officials, has declared that 'the war in Iraq is a disaster, and the occupation continues to be a disaster'. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin added that 'we cannot but see that today there are two focuses nourishing terrorism in the world: the first is the crisis in the Middle East, and the second is Iraq'.

The perception among most European politicians, intellectuals and the overwhelming majority of public opinion is that Washington does not care about what happens in Iraq: the only thing that matters is to repatriate US troops as soon as possible for the electoral benefit of Bush next November. Secretary of State Colin Powell is very much aware of the Franco-German-Russian - and now also Spanish - position on foreign troops in Iraq: a fully sovereign Iraqi government has to request them, and the United Nations Security Council has to approve it.

As well as Tony Blair, Italian premier and 'amico di Bush' Silvio Berlusconi, whose credibility is near zero inside the European Union, is now even more isolated. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio - whose owner is Silvio's wife - the premier proposed 'a pact' to 'exclude terrorism from political debate in Italian democracy'. Meanwhile, EU governments are meeting this Friday to discuss exactly how to fight terrorism. Nobody paid the slightest attention to Silvio's 'pact'.

The report of the king's intervention is new. It would explain a lot about the conduct of the Spanish government in the 48 hours preceding the election. Really, is the best the war party can produce an attempt to exclude terrorism from political debate, and therefore from accountability? Did George Bush feel an urge not to speak about terrorism during the congressional campaign in 2002 when he criss-crossed the US speaking about the Iraqi threat?

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