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Ole!

The Spanish people hope to see peace in their time.

11:00 PM, Mar 23, 2004 • By LARRY MILLER
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QUICK, what's the first thing you think of when it comes to Spain?

Flamenco dancers in elaborate costumes stomping a lightning fast tattoo? (How'd you like to have the apartment under that family?)

A bullfighter in a suit of lights gracefully walking across the sand to face his own death? (They've got the same outfits as the dancers, come to think of it, just lower heels for the bullfighters: Easier to run.)

Hot, dusty men in a hot, dusty land instantly ready to duel with other rabid machos, because one of them bowed a quarter inch too low or used the wrong tense?

Almost-beautiful women with that one, annoying curl plastered down on the forehead?

People so afraid of annoying their king they all start to lisp because he does?

Implacable conquistadors and Armada builders?

The bad guys in every Errol Flynn movie?

FIRST OF ALL, you'll please note that every one of those images is from another century. Too bloodthirsty for you? I agree, especially having to wear those triple-A-width flamenco boots.

But after having spent a millennium, give or take, being some of the most casually violent people in history, I'm afraid our erstwhile coalitionists on the Iberian Peninsula have gone far, far the other way, and decided that never, ever fighting to defend yourself is the best way to go.

There's a great, old Winston Churchill quote that's been circulating on the airwaves and in the papers. Chamberlain had just come back from giving Hitler, oh, everything, in his now-famous "Appeasement '39!" tour. Churchill buttonholed him on his return and said, "You had a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war."

Yes, sir.

PUT ASIDE the hoary aphorisms about those who don't study history; let's change the first question to, "What's the first thing you think of when it comes to Spain . . . today?"

Answer: France, if you take away all the sexually gifted women and the sophisticated plan to dominate the European Union.

WHAT A NICE LITTLE BARGAIN the Spaniards have made. Their clever politicians initially decided to try to blame the Basque separatist group ETA, which didn't do their electoral chances any good, but even al Jazeera did a spit-take on that one. Plus, Catalon Yard, or whatever they call their police over there, found a few tiny hints, like, oh, some other unexploded suitcases from the same attack, and then the actual guy and his pals. The cherry-bomb on top was a letter to a newspaper claiming responsibility from the bin Laden Players. Anyway, the whole thing wasn't the Basques' style, if that's the right word, and they quickly busied themselves whistling "Lady Of Spain" and playing that goofy game everyone reads about in eighth grade, pelote.

So what happened? Why did Spain leave the building?

Hell, folks, we probably should have been astonished they were there in the first place. After all, a poll taken in Madrid on George Bush anytime in the last 12 months would have yielded the same results as one taken at a cocktail party at Hans Blix's house. (Can you imagine one of those? "Top that off for you, Larry? Can't fly on one wing. After dinner we're all going to do a pantomime of Paul Wolfowitz being served tea by Donald Rumsfeld. Oh, look, doesn't Kofi do a wonderful Ariel Sharon? If you close your eyes, it's him.")

No, the only reason Spain stood by us as far as they did was because of ex-Prime Minister Aznar. And that was some "ex" job the Spaniards did on him, wasn't it? They tossed him out faster than bad milk. If you bent down to pick up a fork, he was gone when you sat up again.

But he was a solid ally, a standup guy. Like Tony Blair in England, Aznar always got it. On September 12th, 2001, he knew without equivocation that there were bad guys in the world, that they were at war with the West, and that it was time for the West to walk away from the punch bowl and join the dance. I don't know what Mr. Aznar's plans are, but if he's looking for a new place to live, I wish he'd consider us. (Maybe he's covered by that Bush amnesty thing. Is it anyone who speaks Spanish? Or just all the starving people Vincente Fox doesn't want sprawled out on the road from the airport to Cancun anymore?)

And what does the newly elected Socialist Prime Minister José A-Few-Other-Middle-Names Zapatero think? Well, don't take your eyes off their troops to pick up any more forks.

According to John Diamond in USA Today, Zapatero told El Pais, Spain's leading daily newspaper, that "the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a 'great error' that has aggravated the terrorist threat."