03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Zapatero Discovers America

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain, will visit the White House this coming October 13, 2009. In his first visit to the White House Mr Zapatero will show his fellow Spaniards that he is the closest US ally on this side of the Atlantic.

Not long ago in 2003 Mr Zapatero was in the Spanish Opposition when, during the Spanish military parade of October 12 (Spain's national day) he decided to not stand up when American troops were passing by. The gesture was representative of Mr Zapatero's strong opposition to Mr Aznar's support to former President George W. Bush in his presumably illicit invasion of Iraq. Mr Aznar was Spain's Prime Minister from 1996 to 2004.

Mr Zapatero visits the White House seeking to increase his lowest marks among the Spanish electorate since he became Prime Minister in the aftermath of Spain's worst bombings of March 11, 2004. Spain is undergoing its worst economic crisis since the last recession of 1992-1993. It is the only European country that will not leave recession behind in 2010, its fiscal deficit is forecast to surpass the 10% mark in 2009 and 2010, and unemployment is about to reach 20%.

Mr Zapatero's former economic advisors have left his government. Pedro Solbes, Spain's Finance Minister between 2004 and 2009 recently resigned in disagreement with Premier Zapatero. Jordi Sevilla, a former Minister from 2004 to 2008 and Mr Zapatero's main economic adviser, resigned in September 2009, giving up his parliamentary seat and joining the ranks of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Spain's anti-americanism topped a maximum during Mr Aznar's support to George W. Bush, a move that 90% of Spaniards opposed. President Obama has perhaps inverted the trend. Mr Zapatero's apparent refusal to reach understanding with the United States has now shifted with a left-wing President dwelling the White House. Mr Zapatero is unfortunately not fluent in English. During the recent G20 Pittsburgh summit President Obama greeted Mr Zapatero with a "que paso?", a warm "what's up" in Spanish. Premier Zapatero will likely need a translator when he visits Washington DC.

Coincidentally the trend in Europe, perhaps stressed with the economic crisis, has shifted the color of politics. When Mr Zapatero rose to power in 2004, four of the five largest European countries were ruled by left-wing parties. With the likely loss of Gordon Brown in the British election and the recent win of Angela Merkel in Germany, Mr Zapatero will remain the only left-wing leader in Europe's five largest countries.

Certain strategic moves of Premier Zapatero are perhaps ignored or unnoticed by the Spanish press. After his speech at the United Nations in September 2009 Premier Zapatero acknowledged that "it is not what Obama can do for Spain, but what Spain can do for Obama", picking up John F. Kennedy's famous statement. Moreover Premier Zapatero will arrive in the United States on October 12, 2009, Spain's national day and the day when Cristopher Columbus arguably "discovered" America, an expression that many Latinos would certainly disagree with.

Will Mr Zapatero discover America one more time? He is likely to realize that a close relationship with the United States can only help, a move he strongly criticized when it was Mr Aznar the one that reached out the United States, with an otherwise awfully move that precipitated the loss of the People's Party in the 2004 election.

The Spanish economy is sinking and Mr Zapatero has no clue. He might ask Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, his otherwise economic advisers. He is a lonely falling star trying to approach a shining emerging star. Mr Zapatero's latest opportunity before he definitely falls is the European Presidency, that Spain will hold in the first half of 2010. Mr Zapatero and his Alliance of Civilizations well deserve and opportunity. But it is likely that the severe economic slowdown overshadows any other success in foreign policy.

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