Monday, April 06, 2009

Obama And Zapatero....Brothers In Arms

Finally, it happened. The meeting in Prague yesterday between Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and Barack Obama sealed the restoration of good relations between the Spanish and US governments. The meeting came in the middle of a whirlwind of summits surrounding Obama’s visit to Europe. First we had the G-20, then NATO, then the US-EU summit. Not forgetting Zapatero’s 20000 kilometre round trip to Chile last weekend so that he could be photographed taking a walk by the beach with Joe Biden. So as we emerge into the bright new dawn following the G-20’s decision to end the crisis, let’s take stock on Spain’s own version of the special relationship.

It didn’t look too good a couple of weeks ago, as the poorly handled announcement of Spain’s withdrawal of troops from Kosovo threatened to cast a shadow over cooperation between Obama and Zapatero. As I suspected at the time, there has been a price to pay for putting that right, and this price will be paid in whatever currency Afghanistan uses these days (dollars?). Spain has agreed to send an additional battalion of troops to Afghanistan as part of the US government’s recent discovery that there is still a war going on there. The reinforcement is only temporary, you understand, and it has been described as a “mini-battalion”. Despite this, it represents a significant change of posture for the Spanish government who had rejected all previous efforts made to get them to increase the Spanish contingent. Temporary can be a difficult word to use in the context of Afghanistan.

Ignacio Escolar has written an interesting piece on the issue of US-Spanish relations. He describes the failed efforts of Aznar’s administration to achieve membership of the G-8. The response by the Bush administration was that there was no reason for Spain to belong to the club if they never proposed anything. Although on that basis we could probably justify the abolition of the G-8. What’s wrong with getting together for a convivial lunch in a different country every year? Anyway, it seems that the moustachioed crusader didn’t lose heart at the rebuff and simply decided that the way to get an invite to the party was to support everything the Bush administration proposed. Cue the Azores, and Aznar grinning for the cameras as war was declared. The undoing of Aznar’s disastrous policy following 11-M and the change of government led to Spain being left out in the cold for the rest of Bush’s term; a situation which seems to have done the country more good than harm. Now that the damage has been repaired, perhaps we can now look forward to Obama visiting Spain and the remake of that classic Spanish film “Bienvenido Mister Marshall”?

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