Understanding Spain

by Loren Bliss

Mass media has generally treated the outcome of Sunday’s Spanish election as a major victory for Islamic terrorists and a huge defeat for the Bush Administration and its anti-terrorist coalition, but this assessment – while no doubt accurate – overlooks the extent to which the dismaying election result was the logical outgrowth of long-simmering Spanish anti-Americanism. From this perspective, the chief impact of the March 11 terrorist attack was that it enabled the Socialist Workers Party to turn the election into a referendum on the popularity of the United States – the first such referendum in Spanish history – which gave voice to resentments that have lingered at least since the Spanish Civil War and more likely since the Spanish-American War of 1898.

That this is the correct understanding of Sunday’s socialist victory – and that other Western European nations will probably follow Spain’s lead in repudiating alliance with the U.S. – is strongly suggested by an essay published in the Fall 2003 edition of Hoover Digest. Written by Russell A. Berman, Stanford University’s Walter A. Haas professor in the humanities and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, the essay is entitled "Europe and America: a Cultural Divide?" Its basis is opinion-poll data that describes the disturbing extent to which not only the Spanish people but Western Europeans in general were avowedly hostile toward the United States long before the atrocities of the 11th.

Here are key passages of Berman’s eye-opening work:

"According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 57 percent of the French, 54 percent of Germans, and 56 percent of Spaniards held unfavorable views regarding the United States in June 2003. In contrast, unfavorable views were held by only 26 percent of the British and 38 percent of Italians, figures that explain part of the history of British and Italian support for the United States in the Iraq war..."

"Data regarding unfavorable attitudes toward Americans as people (rather than toward the United States government) show less antipathy but nonetheless a still troubled picture, with a similar distribution: 42 percent of the French, 29 percent of Germans, and 41 percent of Spaniards (as compared to 18 percent of Italians and 15 percent of the British) view Americans unfavorably. The difference between the two sets of data shows that some parts of the European population do indeed distinguish between the government and the people but that there is nonetheless considerable anti-Americanism directed broadly at the people and the culture.

"When the topic of the public opinion survey shifts to the spread of ‘American ideas and customs’—as opposed to attitudes toward the government or the people—the results become even more pointed: 27 percent of the French believe that the spread of American ideas and customs is good, but an overwhelming 72 percent consider it bad. Similarly, 24 percent of Germans think of American ideas as good, while 72 percent see this influence as bad. The attitudes of the British and Italians are, again, somewhat less severe than elsewhere in Europe: 56 percent of the British see the spread of American ideas as bad, as do 45 percent of Italians. When asked specifically about American ideas of democracy, 65 percent of the French, 55 percent of Germans, and 61 percent of Spaniards said they disliked them.

"Perhaps most telling, when asked to choose between the freedom to pursue one’s goals without state interference and, alternatively, the power of the state to guarantee that nobody is in need, 58 percent of Americans opted for freedom. The results in Europe are very different. In no European country was there majority support for individual freedom as opposed to the power of the state. In Great Britain, only 33 percent chose freedom, in France 36 percent, in Italy 24 percent, and in Germany 39 percent. Interestingly, the importance of individual freedom attracts greater approval in parts of the developing world than in Western Europe: Guatemala is at 61 percent, Ghana at 63 percent, Nigeria at 61 percent, India at 53 percent, and Pakistan at 61 percent—levels of support for freedom that put Europe to shame. On this issue so crucial to the relationship between state and economy, American individualist attitudes are closer to the rest of the world than is the European trust in the role of the state.

"This difference in values between the United States and Europe is only part of the larger cultural divide. In the post–Cold War world, this gap has entered public discussion more forcefully than in the past and has contributed to the recent political dueling in the context of the Iraq war. These transatlantic tensions cannot be simplistically explained away as the fault of particular politicians..."

(Ed. note: Emphasis added. -- L.)

Since the data shows Spanish attitudes to be little different from those of France or Germany – note especially the 61 percent opposition to American modes of democracy – the outcome of Sunday’s election was clearly inevitable even before the terrorist attacks, never mind that pre-election polls showed the socialists losing by a slender margin. This fact is further reflected in the election result itself: the SWP garnered 42.6 percent of the vote, a figure significantly close to the 41 percent of the Spanish population that dislikes the American people (and is presumably antagonistic toward the U.S. government as well).

But there is another element at work here that was beyond the scope of Berman’s revealing analysis -- the harder-to-quantify fact that Spanish support for socialism never died. The ill-fated Spanish Republic (1931-1939) was primarily a socialist endeavor. Though the republic eventually deteriorated into Soviet-dominated Marxist tyranny under pressures of the Spanish Civil War – the arms embargo imposed on the republic by the U.S., Britain and France is rightfully blamed for giving the U.S.S.R. the upper hand – popular support for socialism remained strong throughout republican Spain.

All such sentiments were of course brutally suppressed by the eventual victory of the fascists under Gen. Francisco Franco in the civil war (1936-1939). But while Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were Franco’s topmost supporters, the victory left in its wake a lingering anti-Americanism as well. There was not only the matter of the embargo, which helped Franco even as it wounded the republic: there was also the fact that several American corporations, especially Texaco, had given Franco pivotal support in unpunished defiance of the Non-intervention Pact, to which the U.S. was an important signatory. Indeed it is arguable that Franco would have lost the war without Texaco’s guarantee of uninterrupted petroleum supplies.

After Franco’s death in 1975, it became apparent that socialism had merely been driven underground, and with the ascension of King Juan Carlos I and the end of the fascist reign of terror, widespread support for socialism quickly re-emerged – nearly as strong as it had been in the days of the republic. And the Spanish have long memories: with the resurrection of socialism came bitter recollections of how the U.S. paid lip-service to non-intervention but actually aided Franco.

No doubt incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the winner in Sunday’s election, played on these lingering grievances by emphasizing the fact his own grandfather was one of the approximately 600,000 socialists executed by Franco. Zapatero, who has resoundingly denounced the Bush Administration and the entire war on terror, is also notorious for deliberately disrespecting the U.S. flag by sitting down when it passed during a public ceremony – an unprecedented breach of protocol for a politician that nevertheless further bolstered his popularity. (The flag incident is discussed near the bottom of a Washington Post transcript, which may be found by clicking this link.)

Indeed, there is enough documentation of Spanish anti-Americanism that it warrants a category of its own on Google. For example, a February 2003 news analysis by John Vinocur in the International Herald-Tribune states that "Spanish anti-Americanism...goes back to the Spanish-American War," in which Spain lost to the U.S. the last remnants of its once-vast colonial empire, and that today’s anti-American agitation "brings together the anti-globalist, anti-capitalist, anti-clericalist and anti-Semitic elements of the country's right- and left-wing extremes." (Here is the link to the IHT report, which is also relevant in that it details some of the ambitions of the ousted conservatives.)

Hence – despite the staunchly pro-American position of outgoing prime minister José Maria Aznar – Spain’s role in the anti-terrorist coalition was probably doomed from the beginning, particularly given the double-barreled combination of the anti-Americanism unique to Spain and the anti-Americanism common to Western Europe in general.

Which suggests that the real error of the U.S. was yet another glaring intelligence failure: the likelihood the U.S. has never understood how to make use of what the old Soviet KGB regarded as "cultural intelligence" – data about the dominant attitudes in a given society – and the apparent total disregard of the overwhelming probability Spain would prove an unreliable ally from the very beginning. As a consequence, the forces of terrorist Islam have now achieved an unprecedented propaganda victory: an opportunistic, exclamatory expression of long-simmering anti-Americanism that can easily be distorted to appear as if a once-proud Western European nation has suddenly and abjectly surrendered.

Based on the Pew polling data – particularly its troubling evidence regarding the serflike attitudes of today’s British subjects – the alliance with Britain may be similarly ill-fated. The wretched truth of the matter is that Western Europe – Britain included – is probably already lost to Islamic terrorism, just as Spain was lost long before the attacks of 3/11. If the definition of a serf is one who is slavishly dependent upon an overlord and quite content with such a restricted state, the Pew data demonstrates that the Western European majority has already reverted to a modern version of the selfsame degraded condition from which it was liberated less than three centuries ago. And as long as serfs are clothed, fed, housed and cared for, they do not care if their cause is benevolent or malevolent, or if their master is god or demon.

Hence, through absolutely no fault of its own, America may indeed stand alone, and much sooner than anyone publicly anticipates. In this dreadful context, the fact that one of our own great political parties has been captured by those who favor dependency, appeasement and surrender shows just how dangerously compelling the cult of serfhood has become – that it is literally an invitation to national suicide. The only rational alternative – the only hope for the survival of American liberty and what remains of Western Civilization – is the Bush Doctrine: warrior-like assertion of America’s absolute right to defend itself by all means necessary -- and the whining serfdoms of this planet be damned.

posted by on March 18, 2004 12:03 AM

I doubt Western Europe will surrender, but by ignoring the problem as long as they can they will make the war that much bloodier and closer to home when it does come.

And there are people in the U.S. who support John Kerry for president, when his election would likely prove an outright disaster for Western Civilisation. We all have our idiots to bear, though it is true that France, Germany and Spain seem to have go extra helpings.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at March 19, 2004 01:12 PM