NetWar: Señor Mañana, a Tale of Truth, al Qaeda, Norwegians and Poles

Contents Letter From Paris

Contents Letter From Paris

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Señor Mañana, a Tale of Truth, al Qaeda, Norwegians and Poles

I have now a couple of assignments in Spain, so excuse me if I become a little bit mono-thematic. I'm sort of becoming a Zapapundit. God help me.

This post is dedicated to Diplomad, Dear Barcepundit and, very specially, to André Breton [ Link 2 on André Breton ] . It has a serious, well, sort of, first half. And then a delirious second half on a memorable diplomatic gaffe (here's to you, André).

I mean, I never had an enormous respect for Spanish prime minister JLR Zapatero’s intellectual capabilities. And yes, I have been around long enough to know that systematically taking a politician’s word at face value is a sure receipt for journalistic catastrophe. But I really jumped off my seat, listening to Señor Mañana in front of the self-styled parliamentary Committee on the terrorist attacks in Madrid last March 11.

He was there trying to outperform his predecessor, Jose María Aznar, and, among other groovy things, he contributed this pearl to the thick Book of Political Verbal Atrocities:
  • He ardently condemned the notion, which he acknoledged was held in some parts of the world, that Spain surrendered to terrorism when it voted him into office three days after the bombings.

"It is inconceivable that someone can imagine that the citizens of Spain bowed to the wishes of terrorists," he said.

"It is brutal, it is unacceptable," Zapatero stressed, "to call a brave people cowards."

A pity that he forgot to mention this 42-page document called "Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers" found on radical islamist websites by researchers at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI). [If you speak Arabic, here you heve the original]

Let me quote the Brynjar Lia and Thomas Hegghamme, the Norwegian analysts, summarizing the document:

  • The document then analyses three countries (Britain, Spain and Poland) in depth, with a view to identifying the weakest link or the domino piece most likely to fall first. The author provides a surprisingly informed and nuanced analysis of the domestic political map in each country. He argues that each country will react differently to violent attacks against its forces because of domestic political factors:

  • Poland, for example, is unlikely to withdraw from the coalition because there is political consensus on foreign policy, and the country has a very high tolerance for human casualties.

  • Britain is easier to force out of Iraq, because the popular opposition to the war and the occupation is so high. However, the author estimates that Britain will only withdraw from Iraq in one of two cases: either if Britain suffers significant human casualties in Iraq or if Spain and Italy withdraws first.

  • Spain on the other hand is very vulnerable to attacks on its forces, primarily because public opposition to the war is almost total, and the government is virtually on its own on this issue. The author therefore identifies Spain as the weakest link in the coalition.”
The last sentences of al Qaeda’s remarkable analysis of the Spanish political situation were anything but uninteresting for a man in charge of governing Spain after Aznar:

"We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.

Lastly, we are emphasize that a withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence (in Iraq), a pressure that Toni Blair might not be able to withstand, and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly. Yet, the basic problem of making the first tile fall still remains."

Now, one can wonder why, how, through which particular channels, did the terrorists get the news that allowed them to write “the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.” Could it be thinkable that some of the good-willed Socialists who participated in the anti-war agitation in Spain, (more than probably profusely funded by Saddam Hussein through the oil-for-food scam), had some idea about Mr. Zapatero’s electoral promises? Could it?

Perhaps Mr. Zapatero believes his own words and he can’t conceive “that someone can imagine that the citizens of Spain” could bow to the wishes of terrorists, but fact is that the al Qaeda analysts not only conceived it but made their point rather brilliantly and, well, their assessment that “victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured” proved very right two hundred dead Spaniards later…

I don’t know if anyone has reckoned the fact that the only one electoral promise that Mr. Zapatero has scrupulously fulfilled was to withdraw the Spanish troops from Iraq a lot faster than decorum advised. Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear… He was supposed (before the attacks, that is) to lose the election, so nobody in the Socialist Party really cared to come up with a normally witted and competent candidate.

The Polish Non Adventure of Señor Mañana

Talk about a newsmaker. He never rests. He now has irked the Poles, who in fact were already pretty heated at him since his heroic withdrawal from Iraq: the Spanish troops were under Polish command and he didn’t care to warn them in advance that he was letting them down.

Now, the day after his appearance in the Spanish parliament he was due in Warsaw to meet with the Polish PM, Marek Belka. But he felt exhausted after his mastery lesson in political systematic thought. So he just decided to tell Mr. Belka that please, excuse me, I’m not going. Just a little bit tired, you know… And he did that four and a half hours prior to his scheduled arrival to Warsaw, with the honor guard already in order of review. A prowess in diplomatic frankness…

PM Marek Belka Waiting for Zapatero

The Poles were astounded. But they became outright flabbergasted, when someone checked out the press kit that the Spanish ministry of Foreign Affairs had distributed to the Spanish reporters who were to cover the talks (You know, some nosey-newsy reporter curious about what those caballeros may know about us). In the kit, it was (still is) said that Señor Zapatero is (well, was) to meet with Prime Minister Leszek Millar. Biography and all. The only detail was that Mr. Miller (not Millar) isn't the prime minister any longer, the one now, happily in office since May, is Mr. Belka. Mr. Belka wasn't amused.

Polish humor sometimes reminds of English humor, only with that melancholic touch that comes from the subtle differences from Scotch to Wyborowa vodka. A Polish minister confided to journalists that knowing the Spanish Prime Minister’s record he wasn’t that surprised that Mr. Zapatero didn’t know who he was going to meet in Poland as much as of the fact that he didn’t want to meet him. Verbatim, via a friend from Gazeta Wyborcza.

To the story does belong that Mr. Belka can comfort himself with the thought that he isn’t the first one who has been left there waiting for señor Zapatero. The list grows: in June he left without warning or explanation the Istambul summit (insiders said it was because George W. didn’t want to meet him), in October it was the turn of the President of Portugal (Zapatero decided without warning to attend a party meeting instead), in November a trip to Moscow was cancelled without explanation (Putin had already the caviar on the ice) and when the Spaniard finally got himself on the plane he had Putin waiting one hour for him in the Russian winter.

The rumor mill in Madrid pretends that Señor Mañana panics when he’s to meet with someone he thinks doen’t like him or if he expects the conversation to be unpleasant…

Now, class… who’s the daftest politiko in Europe? The answer, mañana.

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Location: Paris, France

I have been a journalist since I was 22. For a (long) while I worked as a reporter for the Swedish, Spanish (I was born in Spain) and American media, covering international affairs... After 1991 I recycled myself to the business press.

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Contents (PDF)
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