With Amigos Like These

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The
most recent National Review cover must make Spain’s Prime
Minister José María Aznar feel less than friendly
toward the “Three Amigos” pictured there: Bush, Blair and John Howard
of Australia, English-speakers all. The irony of that “amigos”!

The
somewhat pompous Sr. Aznar fooled himself into believing that the
Big Boys were placing him on an equal footing when they paraded
him at the pre-war meeting in the American Air Force base in the
Portuguese-owned-and-controlled Azores. How uppity! Once the UN
Security Council farce had been played out, Sr. Aznar was hung out
to dry with the rest of the EU wet blankets, his usefulness having
come to an end.

No
doubt this staunch believer in the American mission would have been
pleased and proud to commit Spanish troops to combat, but the fact
that some 90-plus percent of the Spaniards he governs have been
opposed to the war made that difficult. But Spain has suffered casualties,
one of which will likely put the finishing touches on B&B’s
bold ally Sr. Aznar and perhaps on his Partido Popular’s chances
of leading the next government. Municipal elections to be held in
June may provide a preview.

Spanish
Telecinco cameraman José Couso was killed – many here in Spain
say “murdered” – by a tank attack on the non-military-target Hotel
Palestine, which housed nearly all the members of the press reporting
from Baghdad. Emma Daly, writing from Madrid for The New York
Times, refers to a “blast” that killed three journalists, making
it sound as if the boiler had blown up, or perhaps Osama had planted
a bomb. The headline used the word as well. I watched the Telecinco
news program in which the tank turret was clearly seen to turn – with
clear intent – toward the hotel, saw the flash from the tank’s cannon,
then saw the grisly carnage the bursting shell had wrought. Make
no mistake: José Couso and Taras Protsyuk, a Reuters cameraman,
were killed by hostile action (not “friendly” fire; no mistake was
made as to the target) taken by a U.S. military armored vehicle
against an interdicted target known to be the residence for much
of the independent media.

The
New York Times did not see fit to print this news on its front
page or in the “headlines” it emails subscribers to its online edition.
More important to persons concerned with freedom of the press was
an item in the 11 April headlines: “Braving
War and SARS to Meet in Las Vegas
.” The thoughtful Times
reader shivers in sympathy with the intrepid broadcasters convening
“in the desert, travel anxieties notwithstanding.” The reader is
later relieved to learn that, in spite of “all the concern, this
week’s broadcasting convention has been a heartening tribute to
the resilience of commerce.” Were there any heartening tributes
to slain colleagues, I wonder. Perhaps they hoisted a pint at the
“makeshift pub” mounted by “London-based salesman” Ben Moore, who
hawked his wares with the nonchalant aplomb of the terror veteran:
“We are a little more laid back about these things, I suppose, having
become accustomed to the threat of the IRA.” Given that from what
I could learn, the last IRA (excluding the now extinct “Real IRA”
splinter group) bomb in Britain was detonated in 1996, the salesman’s
sang froid is understandable.

Neither
the two foreign tele-journalists slain in Baghdad nor their mourning
colleagues would likely understand the infantile and shameful “anxieties”
of the conventioneers, who are not likely to be “mistaken for snipers”
(the first U.S. military whitewash line) and fired upon by a tank
when they gleefully fling rolls of toilet paper (or duct tape) out
their hotel windows while wearing their anti-SARS face masks, braving
the rigors of the buffet in make-believe palaces every bit as garish
as the grandiose dwellings of Saddam Hussein.

The
international press may have to wait some time if they expect a
full and impartial inquiry to be made by the Anglo-American coalition,
at least if one looks back at the British inquiry made into the
massacre of 13 Roman Catholics in the British-controlled counties
of Ireland in 1972: thirty one years later, the reopened inquiry
called for by Mr. Blair has yet to come to terms with the actions
of the British troops stationed in another occupied territory.

The
Spanish government has proven less than dogged in confronting its
Anglo-American “amigos” with respect to exactly what led the tank
commander or that individual’s superior to claim that the tank was
“receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel,” according
to the NY Times account, quoting Gen. Buford Blount (commander
of the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division) per Reuters. The Times
states: “[S]ome reporters challenged the military’s account,” according
to the story filed from Kuwait City by Jane Perlez. The story broadcast
on Spain’s Telecinco by on-the-scene correspondent Jon Sistiaga
certainly challenged this account, as apparently did all others.
Those at the convention in Las Vegas raising their own Desert Hell
missed out on the opportunity to comment.

We
learn from a 9 April NY Times article filed by John Burns
from Baghdad that “[t]he military did not reiterate the assertion
of sniper fire in a later briefing.” But battle-dress-sporting Brig.
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks at Central Command reassured the families
and compatriots of the killed journalists (including, in a separate
incident, Tariq Ayoub, a reporter for Al Jazeera, killed when two
air-to-surface missiles were fired into the offices of the station’s
office): “This coalition does not target journalists.” That must
have come as news to the Abu Dhabi Television crew, whose offices
were also hit by small arms fire and, according to editor Nart Bouran,
“an incoming shell that took out our office.”

In,
Spain, Premier is Focus of Anger at Journalist Deaths in Iraq
,”
reads the head of a 9 April story filed from Madrid. Poor José
María Aznar: adding insult to injury, they can’t even get
his official title right. But then Amigo George couldn’t pronounce
“Aznar” properly either, in spite of his preposterous claim to Hispanic
heritage through his sister-in-law. Sr Aznar’s attempt to be a player
has backfired dreadfully: his position as an Amigo of the Atlantic
Alliance must seem to him to have been usurped by Crocodile Dundee
from Down Under. If only he spoke English as well as Javier Solana!

Sr
Aznar’s fellow party members serving in the ministries are faring
little better. I have been watching their performances on television
and felt no sympathy for their shamefaced evasions and squirming:
like most government officials everywhere, political self-interest
takes precedence over conscience. Even the Spanish public seems
shocked and angered, according to Madrid-based Times writer
Emma Daly, who explains that “Even the morning talk shows, normally
filled with human interest stories and love triangles, focused on
the deaths.” Imagine! Spaniards – olé! – focusing
on the non-frivolous! The poor devils don’t have Fox talk shows
– serious talk – or whatever else is shown in the States,
so they must make do with love triangles. I don’t watch Spanish
morning talk shows, so I’m not a reliable witness, but I have seen
some programming nearly as serious as “Bleat the Press.”

The
protests continued yesterday and today and will likely continue
for a while as yet. Spanish journalists, hundreds of them, gathered
in Madrid outside the U.S. embassy holding placards that read: “Couso
Asesinado.” They laid down cameras with their lenses covered, protesting
that the killings of José Couso, Taras Protsyuk and Tariq
Ayoub were a result of an “American campaign to stop independent
coverage from Baghdad,” according to the Times. Ms Daly is
correct in assuming that even the folkloric segment of the Spanish
populations is aroused: I have yet to talk with a Spaniard who thinks
otherwise, and I talk to more than a few, all day and every day,
given that my wife is Spanish and we all know how those Latins love
to talk!

Perhaps
Sr Aznar is coming to understand the not-always-veiled contempt
in which Spaniards and other “old” Europeans are held by the English-speaking
ruling classes of the Anglo-American corporate empire. As to the
Ukranian and the Arab, well, one can draw one’s own conclusion.

I
wonder if he feels reassurred by Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissal
of the silly suspicions voiced by Sr Aznar’s excitable countrymen.
When asked if he gave any credit to the idea of a deliberate attack,
Mr Cheney told a meeting of American newspaper editors: “You’d have
to be an idiot to believe that.” No idiots they, to be sure. These
are journalistic professionals who know better than to believe hundreds
of eyewitness accounts when they have Mr Cheney to believe. We know
that Mr Cheney, like Heidi, would never lie, or he would never have
risen so high in Halliburton, a corporation known by journalists
far and wide for its straight shooting, as straight as the shot
from the tank that killed José Couso.

Perhaps
when his term expires Sr Aznar will land a job with them rebuilding
Iraq. He may not be one of the National Review’s “Three Amigos,”
but with amigos like George and Tony, surely he won’t be left out
in the cold. Maybe Tony can get him a job at Fawlty Towers, where
they had that funny Spanish waiter the British owner had to slap
around.

April
12, 2003

Timothy J. Cullen (send
him mail
), a former equities trader, lives in Seville,
Spain.


     

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