In an interview earlier this week, John McCain would not answer whether he would be willing to meet with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. While some speculated that McCain either did not know who Zapatero was or thought he was some “Latin American bad guy,” McCain’s top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said McCain was not confused — he was simply articulating his policy of refusing to commit to a White House meeting with Zapatero.
The logic behind this particular policy is baffling, considering that Spain has long been a U.S. NATO ally and currently has troops in Afghanistan. So why would McCain shun Zapatero? If President Bush’s actions towards the Spanish Prime Minster give some indication, the answer is Iraq.
Zapatero withdrew Spain’s troops from Iraq soon after his Socialist Party swept to power in March, 2004 in a wave of Spanish anti-war sentiment, a move that reportedly angered Bush:
Zapatero’s first action was to make good on a long-standing campaign promise to remove Spanish troops from Iraq, to the overwhelming approval of Spaniards but the great irritation of Bush.
Eighteen months later, there has still been no one-on-one meeting between the two leaders, and rhetoric has been harsh. It got so bad at one point that Bush refused to take Zapatero’s phone call of congratulations last year after the president won reelection.
QUESTION: Is that the reason why there seems to be like a veto against our Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero, who is an ally and has been Prime Minister for two years but hasn’t come to Washington yet?
MR. HADLEY: He has not come to Washington, that’s true. Whether that is a result of bad public opinion polls in Spain about the United States, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. But there’s — at this point, I don’t think there’s any plans for a visit.
Just last March, when Press Secretary Dana Perino was asked if Bush would congratulate Zapataro on his re-election, she would not fully commit: “I expect he’ll be sending a message to him, sure.”
McCain’s incoherent answer to whether he would meet with Zapatero may indicate that he is interested in making Bush’s grudge against Spain permanent U.S. policy. As Max Bergmann notes, it is “beyond reckless” that McCain would refuse to meet with a democratic U.S. ally that has had soldiers killed in Afghanistan, was brutally attacked by Al-Qaeda and wields considerable influence in Europe and Latin America.
Perhaps Spain won’t be expecting an invitation to McCain’s League of Democracies?