One year ago this week, President George W. Bush and Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain and Jose Manuel Durao Barroso of Portugal held a brief summit in the Azores Islands, resulting in a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein. Despite ousting the Iraqi dictator, it seems the War on Terror ultimately ousted Aznar of Spain after a domestic terrorist attack swayed public opinion and the vote in Sunday’s Spanish election.
The Socialist Party victory in Spain could have implications for further polarization between the European Union and the United States on foreign policy issues and could foreshadow the demise of the Bush and Blair administrations.
First off, it is important to understand that the 1,300 Spanish soldiers, now located just south of Baghdad, are not giving the coalition some sort of strategic advantage that other forces could not maintain. The Spanish contingent is no different than the delegations other nations sent to Iraq, nothing more of a symbolic gesture of support to the United States in this endeavor.
The change in Spanish policy with the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero now puts Spain more in the corner of the Germans and French, who have questioned the United States’ military engagement from the beginning.
The European Union currently finds itself in a tenuous position and certainly susceptible to future terrorist actions. Many smaller European nations have supported the War on Terror through freezing assets, providing logistical support and even providing clearance for overflight by U.S. warplanes.
The repercussions of Spain’s horrific terrorist tragedy will cause these and other nations around the globe to re-evaluate their positions on the War on Terror. Their support could lead to attacks and further erosion of what little public support existed for the War on Terror, especially in Europe.
Prime Minister Blair, although an eloquent speaker and frequent visitor to Bush’s coveted Crawford, Texas ranch, faces an electorate, and even members of his own Labor Party, see that his support of the war as fodder for editorial cartoons drawing a parallel between him and a lap dog of President Bush.
Let’s briefly consider the implications of the past week’s events in Spain to our own presidential election in November. Certainly we see a polarized electorate, whether it is on domestic issues such as the economy or foreign policy.
Realizing Bush’s weakness may be on the domestic front, a chasm in his coalition could provide to be disastrous to his re-election hopes. A president that has spent much of his time attempting to unite countries behind the intangibles of democracy and freedom-loving people may also find himself out of a job come November.
An interesting topic for debate is whether a similar terrorist attack on U.S. soil just days before an election could sway the vote as it did in Spain. We did see a United States that seemed united more than ever following the attacks of Sept. 11, but that unity and resolve quickly gave way to partisan debate on the appropriate response to the attacks.
David Broder, columnist for The Washington Post sought to draw parallels between Franklin D. Roosevelt’s politicizing of World War II for his gain to the President’s use of Sept. 11 video for a campaign ad. The difference in my mind is that F.D.R. was certainly more of a “uniter” in his time than our current president, who evokes mostly polarized viewpoints from Americans. No matter whether you agree or not with the campaign ads, hedging your re-election on the perceived strength of the handling of the War on Terror could backfire if the American people don’t feel safer.
While I agree that an attack in the U.S. three days before an election may not have such a drastic outcome as we saw in Spain, any perceived weakness in the President’s foreign policy could lead to his demise and a fate eerily similar to that of his father’s.
Aaron Hill is a sophomore majoring in chemistry.