Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain withdrew Spanish peacekeepers from Iraq in 2004, he got the cold shoulder from former President George W. Bush. So ever since the election of Barack Obama, Mr. Zapatero has relished the prospect of working with a U.S. leader with whom he shares not only a birthday but also, in his view, a progressive agenda and a desire to resolve conflict through dialogue.

But Spain's unexpected announcement last week that it would withdraw its troops from the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo has marred the nascent relationship with the Obama administration and raised questions about Spain's reliability as an ally, diplomats and foreign policy experts say.

Spain informed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. officials of the decision less than 24 hours before Carme Chacón, the Spanish defense minister, announced it during a visit Thursday to a Spanish military base in Kosovo.

[...] The problem, analysts and experts said, was not so much Spain's decision to withdraw troops as the abrupt way it was announced. According to a report in the newspaper El País, Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos was one of several senior diplomats who were unaware of the decision before it became public. On Monday, in a show of unity, Moratinos said that the whole government backed the Kosovo withdrawal.

But diplomats and experts said they were baffled by Mr. Zapatero's decision to announce a potentially controversial decision just before the Group of 20 meeting in London on April 1-2 and the NATO summit meeting in Strasbourg a day later — meetings that are keenly anticipated in Zapatero's inner circle as an opportunity to work with Mr. Obama.
Good job, Zapatero.

Defense minister Carme Chacón ridiculously defended the fact that she didn't discuss the decision with hardly anyone saying that she felt that the right thing to do was to tell first the people more directly affected: the Spanish troops on the ground. Which I'm not sure if this makes me laugh or cry? How old is she, sixteen, dealing with her high school pals? They're soldiers, for chrissakes. They're not kids, they're grownups whose work is basically getting orders. It's so patronizing that military associations are fuming.

Plus, it's obvious that others are as directly affected by the move as the Spanish troops; namely, the Italians. The Spanish troops are in the Western area of Kosovo, under Italian command. What do you think they feel about having learned about the pullout from the media?

But wait, there's more! She said that she wanted to tell soldiers first, right? Well, as further evidence this is a transparent PR stunt -- to revive the past 'glory' of the Iraq pullout, and to create a controversy to divert the citizen's attention from the desparate economic times --, it turns out (link in Spanish) that she was so interested that the news was shown on TV newscasts that, on the day of her trip, she first taped the announcement before the cameras only, with the exact same words she used when telling the troops ("the job is done; it's time to go home"), pretending she was talking to the soldiers. She wasn't sure the videotape would reach the TVs news department on time for the 3pm newscast, so she told them they could use the enactment in case they needed it.

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