Return of the prodigal daughter

Last week, after another act of barbarism only possible among men, the chickens came home to roost for Spain’s ruling party.

All of a sudden we recalled how 90% of Spaniards had been against the war in Iraq. Could anyone have expected the result of the election, three days after the attack, to have been any different? Well… perhaps, but only if the government had been able to spin the horrific episode to blame the “in-house terrorists,” ETA. But the truth couldn’t be contained for more than a day, and by Sunday morning, as the polling places opened; political collectors were ready to cast their ballots not just in Madrid but throughout Spain.

Aznar had shown his ambidexterity by subjugating Spain to the power of an evangelical pope of neo-conservatism, while discarding the overwhelming feelings of his people. The train bombings in Madrid converted a probable victory by his conservative Partido Popular (PP) into a resounding defeat. What might have been considered a well-run administration on economic and most domestic issues, lost its luster after its leader, Aznar, traded a personal desire for an unpopular State decision. Spain’s foreign policy of friendship and respect toward other nations and peoples was thrown out the window by a voiceless man who was just eager to share the stage with two tenors suffering from aphonia. A sad commentary for Aznar and the political party he had sequestered, and which included his successor-to-be, Rajoy.

Never have I been as close to a political event, as I have to the happenings in Spain this past week, and their possible implications. Constant communication with dozens of friends personally and emotionally involved in this tragedy… journalists, political analysts, citizens from all walks of life and militants from all shades of the political spectrum… have massaged the many arguments and influenced how I view this infamous 11-M for Spaniards.

That Thursday morning, on his way to Atocha to begin his daily commute, my friend M.P., an engineer and PP activist, had a first row ticket to a Spanish tragedy of epic proportions. He intuitively knew that ETA could not be the culprit, “not a chance in a hundred… or even a thousand,” he told me. As much as my Madrilenian friend hates ETA, he sensed their incapability, not in ability but desire, to commit such act… not their way, not their MO after three decades of terror and over 800 victims. It should be obvious to anyone after all these years that ETA’s activism parallels that of the IRA, not Al-Qaeda or its progenies.

But political desperation makes for strange bedfellows, often scraping the basest of our instincts to bring them to the surface. Seventy-two hours before national elections this terrorist act could not be assumed as an attempt by Islamic extremists… or it was good-by to the Moncloa and four more years of “pepismo” (ruling by the PP). So the government was quick to point to ETA as a strong probability. Even the diplomatic corps overseas was getting instructions from Foreign Minister Ana Palacio to direct the blame to ETA in the ensuing hours following the massacre. But, intentional or not, the government’s mishandling of events, or cover-up for those so inclined to believe, backfired.

Much has been written and will be written on how Spain’s fortunes and misfortunes throughout the centuries have been caused by the greatness of one man… or the ineptitude of another. Or, in Aznar’s case, how an intelligent man can look in a mirror and not recognize its convexity.

Many European political analysts, from both the Right and the Left, have been quick to welcome back Spain to Europe’s nest… the prodigal daughter returning to “Old Europe,” to the dismay of America’s war secretary, Rumsfeld.

In contrast, many American columnists, Will and Friedman among them, are viewing these happenings with the same tired eyes, and conspicuous ignorance, they often display. Is it their political agenda, or are they that clueless? My guess is the first.