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McCain Falls Plainly on Spain

By Ted Reinert

It was no "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," but John McCain recently committed another embarrassing foreign policy gaffe - this one with Spain. First he appeared not to know that Spain was in Europe, not Latin America, and to mix up Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero with the Zapatistas. Then foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann said McCain had indeed refused to commit to meeting with Zapatero. Spain is not only one of Europe's largest economies, but it is a NATO ally with troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps McCain was tired. He certainly knows where Spain is: he is a U.S. Senator, after all, and he knocked out half the country's electricity when his plane hit some power lines back in the 1960s.

The gaffe didn't seem to be a big deal in Spain either, although Barack Obama referenced it in the first debate and Zapatero then thanked the Democrat for his consideration of his country. One possible explanation for Scheunemann's statement is that Zapatero's party more or less openly supports Obama in the American presidential race. In this, they're not alone in Europe.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is actually on the right in his country, have hinted strongly at a preference for Obama, as have Germany's Social Democrats. On the other hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel was cool regarding Obama's traipse through her capital this summer, squashing the possibility that his address would be held at the Brandenburg Gate. And Italy's Silvio Berlusconi gave McCain an endorsement, albeit a backhanded one: he said he would prefer the Republican so he would not himself be the oldest leader in the G8.

While Merkel was taking the traditional stance of trying not to get involved with a foreign election and Berlusconi was being Berlusconi, there are reasons the other leaders gave Obama the nod. They want to associate themselves with an American leader popular with their own constituents (in Brazil, several politicians have actually renamed themselves "Barack Obama"). Also, it can't hurt for them to ingratiate themselves with the future president, although McCain might hold a grudge if he pulls off a win. Many of the pro-Obama comments came when Obama's election seemed more of a sure thing. Even now, with polls tight, a McCain win after the disaster of the Bush presidency and given Obama's popularity would still shock and confuse many people around the world.

Obama may have brought his campaign overseas this summer, but both candidates know that the election will not be decided in Paris, Berlin and Madrid, but in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado. Back in the states, support abroad won't necessarily help - it hurt John Kerry in the jingoistic atmosphere of the 2004 election, when "French" was an insult. Foreign policy matters little to most citizens, with the exception of security issues, and given the state of the economy it will matter even less than usual this November. European foreign policy is even less of a worry, despite some hype about a new Cold War with Vladimir Putin's Russia. If any foreign country is going to deliver an October surprise, it won't be Spain or France, but rather teetering-on-the-brink Pakistan or North Korea, where Kim Jong Il may be quite sick.


Ted Reinert is a graduate student in the European Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy. He is a political journalist from Annapolis, Maryland.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (1)

arjay1 Author Profile Page:

Europeans in action:

"Zapatero is a product of the party (Socialist Worker Party),” said Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, a professor of sociology at the Complutense University in Madrid. “He’s an apparatchik. He has no other career, no travel. He’s been between Leon and Madrid all his life."

As Mr. Zapatero heads into a second term with a stronger mandate, political analysts say he faces the challenge of shepherding a country that has enjoyed a decade-long economic bonanza but now faces rising unemployment, higher inflation and slowing economic growth."

McCain is a medium conservative; is it possible that he wouldn't meet with Zapetero for ideological reasons? As for Europeans being a consideration in American politics, there probably is no longer an 'American' election; Every DNA code on Earth now participates in them as citizens. There is an unhappiness that there might be some 200,000 European 'visitors' who hold absentee ballots intended for kindred liberal/socialist candidates in America and even more unhappiness that some 40 million dollars in political donations may have shown up coming from Europeans through internet proxies in America. As for Spain not being in Europe, there are more Spanish speaking voters in the American election than there were electing Zapetero. But who gains from 'random' political interaction?

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