Of kings, vassals and emissaries

Even in this highly advanced information age, diplomacy remains a juggling act of both verbal and nonverbal communication. It was true with kings and vassals of bygone days, and it’s just as true today.

Kings-of-old have been replaced by kings-of-new… but kings continue to be kings by whatever title. Absolute monarchies have evolved or faded away… but a few nominal, constitutional kingdoms still exist to remind us of a historical yesteryear. At their helms, new monarchs are simply caretakers of a sovereignty that seldom extends beyond the confines of a Disneyland-like patrimony, and a measure of State-sponsored protocol.

Juan Carlos of Spain exemplifies, perhaps better than any other reigning monarch, a person-king caught in the twilight of royal houses… where only the silk thread of a referendum holds the crown. But for now, Juan Carlos and his royal family remain “at the service” of the hard to govern, multi-region (multi-nation to some) that is Spain .

Spain received its own “nine-eleven” on three-eleven this year (11-M to Spaniards). It was the sequitur by an Al-Qaeda clone to Aznar’s personal involvement with Bush in the Iraq affair. Rude awakenings for a people who did not advocate invasion (90%) and made that feeling crystal clear with more public demonstrations than any other nation. Almost 200 people lost their lives on three-eleven… for the vassals must pay the tribute exacted of their king, Prime Minister José Maria Aznar in this case.

Political turmoil which followed three-eleven, on the eve of Spain’s elections, likely had a hand in changing the size of the PSOE (center-left party) victory, if not the election. After two terms in office, Aznar was not a candidate, and his heir-apparent in the PP (center-right party), Mariano Rajoy, had experienced an uphill battle during the campaign because of Spain ’s unpopular involvement in Iraq . PSOE candidate, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had made a campaign promise to bring Spain ’s peace-keeping force home from Iraq if he became prime minister. And so he did!

We remember the admonitions by the White House, evidencing Bush’ tantrums as Zapatero pulled the troops out of Iraq . Never mind that strategic and military issues were inconsequential; it was the symbolism in what Zapatero had done. How dare him! How dare Spain stop paying tribute, and pull out of the coalition-vassalage! Apparently, some of these “Old Europe” lesser-kings are simpletons, failing to take seriously the fact that America ’s king, its president, is de-facto the leader of the “Free World.”

And so it came to pass that regardless of Zapatero’s efforts to maintain good relations with the US , a frigid carpet had to be walked on by any Spaniard trying to knock at the White House’s door. Even the wires of communication were kept frozen, and any phone call from Madrid was likely to get a busy signal… or worse. A congratulatory call on November 3, after several attempts, made the lesser-king aware who the King really was… showing that in the world of preeminent power politics there are Kings and there are kings… the latter taken for vassals.

Enter Juan Carlos, King of Spain by the Grace of God… and the indifference of the Spanish citizen-vassals. No better time than the present, and no better messenger than the King, to make amends for the shuttered US-Spain relations, to assure a better future for Spain . In this case, the “olive branch” must find its way from the lesser-king, Spanish Premier Zapatero, to the king of kings, the Crawfordian emperor.

In contrast to the superficial and inaccurate reporting given by the American press last week, a reporter for a major Spanish daily, “El País,” gives us an account of what went on at the Crawford ranch. The meeting did not last eighty minutes, as reported, but three hours, pre-lunch and lunch. During the first session, the Elder Bush was present… the go-between the old and the new blue-bloods.

We are told in the Spanish press that Juan Carlos at the outset looked at Dubya and point-blank asked: “What’s going on… are you upset?” That was followed by a comment made by Bush-father to his son: “I told you he doesn’t mince words (referring to the King).”

Will Zapatero receive forgiveness from Bush… for getting out-of-line? If so, what tribute must Spain pay to stay in America ’s good graces?

Apparently kings, if in name only, can still perform indispensable diplomatic work, verbally and nonverbally, as emissaries.