Iraq Through Spanish Eyes

Spain is not among those countries listed over on the left side, under “Publications that I monitor, by country.” But that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t systematically cover the Spanish press as well, if I so chose. It’s more a matter of where my interests lie (more in Central/Eastern Europe than in the Iberian Peninsula) and my degree of comfort with the language, determining how quickly, comfortably, and effectively I can read texts.

But I can’t rule out that interesting articles will come up in the Spanish press that I’ll want to tell you about – as happened today (aided by an oblique reference from a German news site, plus some serendipity). In fact, I’m rather pleased that the commentary piece I found in ABC de Madrid (a conservative Spanish newspaper), entitled Napoleón en Bagdad (you can translate that one for yourself, ¿no?) fits in rather nicely with my current theme of national commentary on the tribulations being encountered by America and her allies in occupied Iraq.

It’s a mess there now, writes Eduardo San Martín. George W. Bush’s pronouncement (on that aircraft carrier, you remember) that major combat operations were over rings rather hollow (a “bitter irony”) after more than a hundred further deaths. Those who pinned their hopes on the war as the means to provide a better future for the Iraqi people, not to mention the other peoples in that region, are now disappointed.

“They knew how to make war, but they didn’t know how to construct the peace. It’s not a matter here of a reproach, merely of a diagnostic observation,” San Martín writes. The grand pre-war vision of the “neocoms” (yes, that’s the term he uses; he must mean the administration’s “neo-conservatives”) turned out to be wrong – you know, that vision that had the Iraqis welcoming their liberators with jubilation, the occupation financed from receipts from the oil wells brought quickly back into service, and the installation of a provisional government with the blessing of the UN.

But that should have been no surprise to anyone knowing their history. Invaders are seldom if ever welcome by native populations, no matter how oppressive the governments they live under. History offers many examples for reference; indeed, Spain offers at least one apt example, namely the invasion by Napoleon in the first decade of the 19th century. At that time Spain was a poor, corrupt society, living off proceeds from a decaying empire, where the Inquisition still existed. The French armies, in contrast, represented the very vanguard of modernity, of the abolition of feudal privileges, the establishment of a new legal order, and the advancement of the Rights of Man (never mind if the latter tended to vary in practice from theory in areas under French military occupation). Nonetheless, the Spanish people turned out en masse to defend their country, both in formal military formations and by means of a vicious guerrilla warfare that did much to divert French resources needlessly and so to contribute to the French Empire’s downfall (although San Martín acknowledges that the French were ultimately driven from Spain with considerable assistance from British forces under Wellington).

More broadly, he draws two conclusions from this episode: 1) First, obviously, that invaders are never welcome, but also 2) That the ideas brought by invaders (if any) can still flourish in the target society, over the long run, if allowed time to germinate. This is what happened in Spain; San Martín traces four profound developments in post-war Spain that were inspired by French ideals: 1) The idea of constitutionalism; 2) The rise of Spanish liberalism, a political tradition which would last until Franco and which would also help build the very notion of the Spanish State; 3) The idea of the “nation in arms” or national army, which arose from its very embodiment in the collective resistance to Napoleon; and 4) The notion of patriotism, of Spanish nationalism, a political notion which simply didn’t exist, anywhere in Europe, prior to its awakening in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

So what does San Martín suggest the Americans do – simply withdraw from Iraq as a hopeless case, and instead trust to Father Time to show Iraqis the wisdom of Western ways? No, not that; it suffices to remember that Iraq is not some nation of primitives, but rather a nation with a rich culture and history all her own. And above all, the “norteamericanos” (= [North]Americans) need to have a plan to make Iraq modern, stable, and democratic. If they don’t, and are just hanging on hoping for the best, then the most advisable thing to do would indeed be to withdraw completely.

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