With Amigos Like These

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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