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GLW: Spain Strikes A Blow Against Warmongers

Spain Strikes A Blow Against Warmongers

Rohan Pearce
Green Left Weekly

Three days after the March 11 terrorist attacks in Madrid, in which 200 people died and up to 1750 were injured, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party (PP) government was thrown out of office. The massive defeat of the PP, which lost to the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), signalled a new crisis for Washington's “war on terror” and the US-led occupation of Iraq.

The question now is, can we make sure that Australian PM John HoWARd, British PM Tony B.liar and US President George Bu$h get similar treatment?

The PP was punished for its cynical and transparent manipulation of the blasts, blaming them, despite evidence to the contrary, on the Basque independence group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom). Most believe the bombings are more likely caused by terrorists linked to al Qaeda, who have claimed responsibility, than to ETA, which has denied it.

Voters were not simply influenced by fear — the belief that attacking Iraq had made it more likely that Spanish people would be killed by terrorists — but also by outrage — thousands of people had suffered because Aznar’s government supported a war that most Spanish people had decisively rejected.

Spain was home to some of the biggest protests in the world on the February 14-16, 2003, weekend of anti-war action. Up to 2 million people protested in Madrid, 1.5 million in Barcelona, 500,000 in Valencia, 250,000 in Seville, 100,000 in Los Palmas and 100,000 in Cadiz. Polls revealed that around 85% of the population were opposed to the impending invasion of Iraq.

On March 26 that year, a student strike involved an estimated 90% of secondary school and university students. The strike, the fourth called by the Spanish School Student's Union, mobilised more than 1 million people in more than 70 towns. Protesters targeted the PP government with their slogans and chants.

The April 9, 2003, edition of Green Left Weekly reported that demonstrators' slogans included “Whose fault is it? It is the fault of the PP government” and “If you have the guts, call early elections”.

In a March 18 op-ed in the Washington Times, John Roberts II, who served in Ronald Reagan's regime, argued that the anti-war campaign run by new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero should not be taken too seriously. “Mr. Zapatero's rhetoric was designed to appeal to the 90% of Spanish voters who opposed the Iraq war. It is the language of a longshot challenger”, Roberts said.

It is clear, however, that the new PSOE government is under pressure from public outrage, promising to withdraw its troops from Iraq by June 30 — unless an international, UN-sponsored force takes over the occupation.

Zapatero has also indicated that he will move Spain away from the previous government's close alliance with the US and Britain towards the France-German imperialist axis within the European Union.

The withdrawal of the 1300 Spanish troops now in Iraq is unlikely to be militarily significant, but it will hurt the US-led occupation nonetheless. As the fig-leaf of international support is peeled away, public opposition to the occupation, both in the US and in Iraq, is strengthened.

This has given impetus to the Bush regime’s efforts to give the occupation a UN or NATO facade that might let it cut a deal with Zapatero and the French and German governments.

There is no doubt that the US corporate elite is worried about the impact of domestic opposition. A report released by the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, on March 9, calls for a public commitment to continuing the occupation from US President George Bush, Democratic candidate for president John Kerry and the US Congress.

The report recommended that the White House “explain to the American people the vital interest of the United States in Iraq’s future, so they would be willing to bear the cost of stabilization and reconstruction; and to make a multiyear, multibillion dollar public commitment to rebuilding of Iraq, so that Iraqis would understand that the United States did not intend to walk out before vital tasks were completed”.

Kerry has apparently accepted the CFR's advice. He was quoted in the March 17 New York Times as stating: “In my judgment, the new [Spanish] prime minister should not have decided that he was going to pull out of Iraq. He should have said, `This increases our determination to get the job done'.”

The Spanish election is causing reverberations in other countries. The Honduras government has announced the withdrawal, by June 30, of its 370 troops stationed in Iraq.

Instead of being another 9/11, which Washington used as justification for a more aggressive foreign policy, the Madrid tragedy has called into question the rationality of waging a “war against terror”.

The governments that have been part of the “coalition of the willing” — particularly Australia, Britain and the US — face a contradiction: trying to whip up terrorist hysteria while carrying out policies likely to increase terrorism, by driving people, through a sense of powerlessness and indignation, towards groups like al Qaeda.

It's a warning sign for Washington and its international allies that their terrorist scare campaign will not fool people forever.

In Australia, this contradiction has taken its toll on the federal Coalition government. Australian Federal Police head Mick Keelty told the Channel Nine Sunday program on March 14 that if “this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq”.

He backed down on March 16, stating: “I regret that some of my words have been taken out of context”. Government ministers publicly criticised Keelty's view, and, according to the Australian newspaper, the retraction came after pressure by Arthur Sinodinis, Howard's chief of staff. Sinodinis rang Keelty after the interview aired.

The government publicly asserted that there was no connection between Spanish support for the occupation of Iraq and the attacks. “Iraq isn't an issue that has driven al Qaeda. They've been driven by fundamentalism”, foreign minister Alexander Downer told Channel Nine's Today program on March 16.

As soon as Keelty backed down, Howard and his cabinet suddenly couldn't speak highly enough of him.

In the coming weeks we will be treated to grand statements about “staying the course” in Iraq and “not letting the terrorists win”. But it is not the warmongers in Washington or Canberra who will pay the price for their imperialist foreign policy, but working people — from Madrid to Baghdad.

Should the new Spanish government carry through with its promise and withdraw troops from Iraq, it won't be a victory for Osama bin Laden and his reactionary ilk, but for the global anti-war movement and those millions in Spain who mobilised for peace.

If ALP leader Mark Latham would commit to doing the same, it would be an even bigger step forward, as would the defeat of our warmongering government. Howard’s slip in the polls is a sign that Australians are also outraged that the Coalition government sent troops to a war that we opposed, and that he lied to justify.

The coalition of the willing may have achieved “regime change” in Baghdad, but now it may well happen in Canberra, London and Washington, as people reject the warmongers' attempt to exploit another terrorist atrocity and their phony “war on terror”.


From Green Left Weekly, March 24, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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