Spain accused of easing up on the “War on Terror”

Several national and international newspapers this morning continue to interpret the decision of the new Spanish President to pull out of Iraq on June 30th (if the UN is not in charge by then) as a sign that Spain is weakening its stance on terrorism. Yesterday when asked about the possibility of Spain withdrawing from the alliance, President Bush used the term “cowardice” in his answer – although he didn’t directly accuse Spain of this – and said he would continue to fight terror with friends. Quite a few papers in the USA are appalled at the result of the Spanish elections and are worried that it is a sign of Spain giving in to terrorism.

It is important to get the message across that Spaniards were still being led to believe, until the night before elections, that ETA was the main suspect, and although increasingly people were starting to question this fact, it certainly did not cross most voters minds that Al Qaeda had planted the bomb to coincide with elections and force a vote against the Popular Party.

There is no reason for Al qaeda to feel that the PSOE party will take a weak stance on terrorism – the Socialists have supported all of the Popular Party’s initiatives against terrorism throughout this legislature, and Zapatero has already promised to take a hard line on national and international terrorism.

For most Spaniards pulling out of Iraq is not a sign that the government is easing up on terrorism. The fact is that most Spaniards have never linked the “War against Iraq” to the “War on Terror” in the way that many North Americans and British people did. Spaniards believed that war was declared on Iraq for the wrong reasons, and that the allies were not being totally sincere about their reasons. They didn’t believe that weapons of mass destruction existed, they were worried by the fact that this was an attack which neither NATO or the United Nations supported, and there was a feeling among Spanish people that their Government was leading them into a conflict which violated international law.

President Aznar never argued his case to the extent that Blair and Bush did to Parliament and to public opinion. And he has never been prepared to explain his view of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq after all.

Most Spaniards have a feeling of international responsability, they shared in the World’s shock and grief when the USA were attacked on 11th September 2001, and identify with the fight against terrorism and their participation in this fight. But Spaniards lived in a dictatorship for 40 years, and their country was isolated from most international forums.

There was great rejoicing in this country when Spain joined the European Union in the early 1980s, and the population voted to stay in NATO in a national referendum held in 1986. Spaniards enjoy participating in international bodies and international initiatives which are protected and approved by international law and the United Nations. They participated in the Gulf War, the Bosnian crisis, and Spanish troops are still working hard with their colleagues from other countries in Afghanistan. The fact that the war on Iraq was never approved by an international body will always be a sign for many Spaniards that the war should have been avoided at that stage, until there was more consensus or until other measures were taken.

All this means that in pulling out of Iraq, Spain is not necessarily giving in to terrorism. Zapatero announced in an interview on Onda Cero Radio this morning that he will take steps to improve national security, and he said two days ago that he would seek national and international consensus in the fight on terrorism. Spain wants to participate in the fight against terror, but in a global fight, not a fight carried out according to the rules and principles of one or two World leaders. And many Spaniards have never made the connection between the war against Iraq and the interntional war on terror.

Finally the Guardian publishes this article by a very popular Spanish writer, Almudena Grandes.