The Magazine

Remember the Maine

Not much love lost between the United States and Spain.

Feb 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 21 • By MARK FALCOFF
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El Anti-Americanismo Español

by Alessandro Seregni

Síntesis, 300 pp., €17.50

Estados Unidos

Primer o Tercer Mundo?

by Antonio Caño

El País, 197 pp., €11.90

Several years ago, I was summoned to the office of a member of Congress to brief him on Venezuela. The honorable gentleman--I had never met him before--turned out to resemble a congressman as depicted in a Mel Brooks film far more than most members of that august body do.

Although I was supposed to be doing the briefing, he did most of the talking, often wandering off the subject at hand. At one point, and for no particular reason, he announced that he positively hated France. By this time I was losing patience and couldn't help interrupting: "But Congressman," I said, "France is only in the middle range of anti-American countries in Europe. If you want to see a country that really hates us, you need to visit Spain."

"Spain?" he burst out. "Spain? Why, when I was an 18-year-old Marine at [the U.S. naval base in] Rota, I had a wonderful time! I didn't sense any anti-Americanism in Spain."

This must have been around 1961 or 1962, not long after the United States had signed a bases accord with the dictator Francisco Franco, and when the dollar/peseta exchange was hugely favorable, even to a low-ranking enlisted member of our armed forces. A lot of water had passed under the bridge since then; the honorable member obviously needed to be brought up to date.

Spain is not the most important country in Europe, but it is not a negligible one, either. It has the ninth largest economy in the world, and it is a publishing and media center for the second most widely spoken Western language after English. It is a member of both NATO and the European Union and its troops are actively participating in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Its diplomats played an important role in resolving civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. Spanish banks are backing many enterprises in Latin America, and Spanish finance has penetrated the far corners of the earth.

When its prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, announced the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq the morning after his election in 2004, he inflicted a grievous wound--not just diplomatic but military--on the cause for which the United States, Great Britain, and a dozen other countries were fighting. No doubt Zapatero, who had been running behind in the polls until a few days before the election, hugely benefited from a string of coordinated terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid a few days before the election. Even so, his views on Iraq (and what is more to the point, on the United States) came far closer to reflecting the opinions of ordinary Spaniards than that of his distinguished predecessor, José Mariá Aznar.

While Zapatero's own standing in public opinion has declined somewhat since his assumption of power, Spanish attitudes towards the United States have, if anything, hardened since then. This, in turn, has encouraged Zapatero and his foreign minister Miguel ngel Moratinos to continuously engage in a series of gratuitous insults to this country and its leaders. Not surprisingly, he is the only major (or minor) European chief of government who has never had a face-to-face meeting with President Bush.

While it is a fact beyond discussion that the standing of the United States has declined sharply in Western Europe in the past four or five years, the case of Spain is particularly arresting, and largely supports my comments to the congressman. In a Pew Foundation survey, released in 2004, fully 73 percent of respondents there registered an "unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" opinion of the United States, compared with 60 percent in France and Germany, and 33 percent in Great Britain. Americans as people are disliked by 51 percent of Spaniards (as opposed to 35 percent in France, 26 percent in Germany and 21 percent in Great Britain). While George W. Bush is not admired anywhere west of the old Cold War borders, fully 71 percent of Spaniards have "no confidence" in him whatever, as opposed to 62 percent of the French, 46 percent of the Germans, and 42 percent of British respondents.