The blogosphere is buzzing in the aftermath of an interview that John McCain recently conducted with a hispanic market radio station in Florida. In the interview McCain is asked a number of rather open-ended questions about U.S. relations with our Latin American neighbors, questions that McCain answers with a specificity that demonstrates that he has more than a passing familiarity with the region, its leadership, and its politics. But when the interviewer turns her questioning to the issue of U.S. - Spanish relations, McCain suddenly clams up, appearing hesitant to answer the question, and even, at times confused. Most troubling was McCain's refusal to say whether he'd be willing to entertain a face to face meeting with Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero.
David Kurtz, at Talking Points Memo opines:
At first it sounds like McCain is taking a hard neocon line against Prime Minister Zapatero, but as the interviewer continues to press the point, it becomes pretty obvious that McCain has no idea who she's talking about.John Marshall comments similarly:
Well, we've heard the interview now. And John McCain either doesn't know who the Prime Minister of Spain is, thinks Spain is a country in Latin America, or possibly both.And even Andrew Sullivan chimes in with a similar thought:
It now seems indisputable: John McCain doesn't know who the prime minister of Spain is and thinks he's some anti-American leftist in South America. Now imagine if Obama made that kind of gaffe.And there are undoubtedly a couple of seconds in that interview where John McCain seems a bit confused about the question. But are we really to believe that McCain doesn't know who the prime minister of Spain is after having just rattled off the names of three or four leaders of much smaller Latin American nations? Sarah Palin maybe --no, scratch that: Sarah Palin probably, but John McCain?
In fact, there is another possibility to consider, one that is no less troubling: John McCain may very well have intentionally lumped Zapatero in with other world leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejadwith with whom McCain has publicly and loudly signalled a refusal to negotiate face to face. Should this prove to be this the case, however, it would be a stunning posture to take with respect to a Western European, liberal democracy, a member of NATO and a country whose troops are actively supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
It would also be in keeping with the Bush adminsitration's current policy towards Spain. The Washington Post notes that:
President Bush has never forgiven Zapatero for pulling troops out of Iraq shortly after his victory in 2004, even though the Spanish prime minister has tried repeatedly rebuild relations and win an invitation to visit Washington. Bush has yet to hold a formal bilateral meeting with Zapatero, though in March he called him to congratulate him on reelection, and in April they met briefly at the NATO summit in Bucharest.Readers may recall that Zapatero came to power in the immediate aftermath of a terrible terrorist incident involving bombs planted on commuter trains in Madrid. The explosions resulted in the deaths of nearly 200 people, and the current government's hasty blaming of home-grown separatist group ETA resulted in a loss of confidence in the government and its subsequent defeat at the hands of Zapatero in the impending elections. The bombs in question had been planted by Islamic radicals protesting Spain's involvement in the occupation of Iraq, and the Spanish electorate, which had never been on board with the Aznar government's decicion to support Bush's Iraq policy in the first place, handed the government over to Zapatero, who promptly withdrew the Spanish troop contingent from Iraq.
George Bush is a well known practitioner of the politics of petty vindictivenes, and his party has been eager to play along. Who can forget the abolishing of the word "french fries" in favor of Freedom Fries in the House Cafeteria as a response to Gallic skepticism in the lead up to the Iraq invasion? Who can forget legislative proposals that would have barred the French and other skeptics from participating in the lucrative and noble enterprise that would be the reconstruction of Iraq in the aftermath of regime change? Who can forget "old Europe" or the way that George W. Bush rewarded and punished world leaders with invitations to vacation at his Crawford ranch and very public declarations of who was not invited? America came across as unbelievably chidish in those heady days of premature triumphalism, and the sting of that petty schoolyard vindictivenes has not completely healed.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have promised to work hard to mend America's frayed relations with her allies and the rest of the world. It is a desperately needed task at this moment in history, when the American brand is at one of its lowest points and skepticism about our purposes and intentions, our values and our judgment abounds. Yet if John McCain was not confused by the question he was asked in the Union Radio interview, and did in fact say what he meant to say (as his staff now insists), then clearly he is not the man to lead this nation forward. His governing style would only harm our image abroad even further.