Snub of Spain Just McCain's Latest Europe Bashing
In one of the more bizarre developments of campaign 2008, John McCain's campaign has announced that he won't be rolling out the White House welcome mat for Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, prime minister of America's NATO ally Spain. But if McCain's posture seems like an adolescent temper tantrum aimed at a critical member of Washington's Atlantic alliance, it's hardly an isolated episode. With his vitriolic Paris and Berlin-bashing in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, John McCain stood shoulder to shoulder with the France-hating purveyors of "freedom fries" and "old Europe."
McCain's Spanish Inquisition started yesterday, when the would-be Republican president seemed to suggest to an interviewer he would not commit to meeting with the Socialist Zapatero at the White House. But after speculation ran amok that John McCain simply didn't know who Zapatero was or confused him with Latin American leftists Castro, Chavez and Morales (about whom he had been asked to comment), McCain's foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann insisted there was no confusion:
"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and ID'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview."
While there is uncertainty as to whether McCain really meant to slight Spain's Zapatero, leader of a member of the coalition of the no-longer willing in Iraq, there is no ambiguity about John McCain's past taunts and insults directed at France and Germany.
As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating the Chirac government for France's refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC's Hardball:
"Look, I don't mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too."
The next day on February 11, 2003, McCain co-sponsored a Senate resolution praising 18 European nations backing U.S. enforcement of UN demands for Saddam's disarmament. In his press release, McCain echoed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in thundering at the France and Germany of "old Europe:"
"The majority of Europe's democracies have spoken, and their message could not be clearer: France and Germany do not speak for Europe...most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us."
McCain's venom towards the French was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On February 13, 2003, McCain warned of "new threats to civilization [which] again defy our imagination in scale and potency" portrayed Iraq as "threat of the first order." He proclaimed that "the United States does not have reliable allies to implement a policy to contain Iraq" and pointed the finger squarely at France:
"Compare our great power allies in the Cold War with those with whom we act today in dealing with Iraq.
France has unashamedly pursued a concerted policy to dismantle the UN sanctions regime, placing its commercial interests above international law, world peace and the political ideals of Western civilization. Remember them? Liberte, egalite, fraternite...
...Gerhard Schroeder's Germany looks little like the ally that anchored our presence in Europe throughout the Cold War. A German Rip Van Winkle from the 1960s would not understand the lack of political courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq exhibited in Berlin today."
Here's how influential Senator John McCain sees the French.
JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it.
NORMAN HERMANT: Many in Washington are now saying relations with France have been a problem going all the way back to the end of World War II.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt made a very serious mistake when they decided to give France a veto in the Security Council when the United Nations was organized.
McCain's feud with the French continued even after the start of hostilities and President Bush's May 1 declaration of "mission accomplished" in Iraq. But in a cynical July 2003 keynote address to the Atlantic Partnership (which promotes "the benefits of a strong and stable Atlantic community of nations"), Senator McCain acted as if he had never uttered his seething words of condemnation. Even in papering over the schism he helped foster, McCain couldn't resist taking a potshot at France:
"France and Germany shared the goals of our campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime. We obviously disagreed over the means. Now that we have achieved our common objective of ending the threat posed by Saddam's Iraq, it's time to stop quarreling over the way we did so and move on. European nations that opposed the war must resist the tendency to say "I told you so," sit on the sidelines as the United States and our partners attempt to transform Iraq, and hope we find ourselves in a sandy quagmire that, in the eyes of some war opponents, would give us our just due...
...The United States must resist the tendency to punish our friends who did not support how we went to war, because things could have turned out differently. By the admission of Germany's leading opposition figures, who lost a close election to the current chancellor's coalition, a government in Berlin led by them would have stood with the United States in the diplomatic campaign preceding the war. France would have been isolated in its opposition, unable to claim to speak for Europe."
For his part, President Bush despite the clashes over Iraq still welcomed Chirac, Schroeder and Zapatero's conservative predecessor Aznar to the White House. As for McCain, he seemed to suggest during his visit to Paris in March that relations with the United States would improve solely due to the deference to the U.S. properly restored by right-wing President Sarkozy:
"I think relations with France will continue to improve no matter who is president of the United States because this president is committed to greater cooperation and values our friendship."
But when it comes to Spain's Zapatero, according to Randy Scheunemann, not so much. Apparently, conservatives only need apply for admission to the McCain White House.