Sunday, July 29

Spain and Finland: Different Beds in the Same House?

One part of international Politics that American's don't normally see is the issue of when a country's leader gets an invitation to the White House. Sure, we see the nice photo ops when they do visit. But what we miss is the discussion when a country does not get an invitation. Let's forget that it is President Bush they are coming to visit, and that many of these leaders don't like him and would rather see a liberal/socialist handing out the invitations. At the end of the day, an invitation validates the importance of the leader receiving the invitation, and of the continued good relations between the two countries.

With that in mind, there has been lots of talk in Finland over possible reasons why President Tarja Halonen has not received an invitation since her last visit in 2002.

(Presidents Tarja Halonen and George W. Bush met at the White House in 2002.
Photo: RON EDMONDS / AP - Helsingin Sanomat)

Maybe it has something to do with her declaring that Iraq War illegal while visiting the United Nations in September, 2004:
In her address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Finnish President Tarja Halonen expressed the view that the War in Iraq was illegal.

Speaking on the opening day of the General Assembly, President Halonen said that the international community had failed before the war in Iraq began. "Conflicting national interests prevailed over common will", she said.

"There was not enough commitment to act within the boundaries of Security Council resolutions. Some countries resorted to use of force which was not compatible with international law."

At a press conference held before her speech, Halonen said that some kind of an international court would be needed to give a formal decision on the legality of the war.

"However, it is my own impression that the requirements of international law were not met", the President said. - Helsingin Sanomat
This was not the first time Finland had interjected itself into the whole Iraq issue and may have even effected the results of an election against members of the Government accused of signing up to the US's war on terror.
In a televised debate in the run-up to the 2003 general election, Ms Jäätteenmäki said Mr Lipponen had, during a visit to Washington in December 2002, signed up Finland to the US-led coalition that was to invade Iraq in March. Ms Jäätteenmäki's Centre party won the election and was appointed the country's first ever woman head of government in April. She was forced to resign in late June after it transpired that she had used secret government documents about Mr Lipponen's Washington visit as a weapon against her SDP opposite number. - uutiset
The Helsingin Sanomat (HS) has a good evaluation of how Finland's lack of visits compares with that of other Nordic and European countries. In effect they are near the bottom-end of the group. When President Halonen was in the US earlier this year, a request was made to meet with President Bush, and was politely declined:
The United States has declined a Finnish request for a meeting between President Tarja Halonen and US President George W. Bush this week. At the same time, a meeting was arranged with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who is scheduled to meet Bush today, Tuesday. According to the office of the President, Finland had asked about the possibility of a meeting with the US President during Halonen’s visit to the United States. The request was turned down for scheduling reasons. Scheduling problems are routinely invoked in international diplomacy to turn down a proposed meeting. - Finland For Thought
However, all is not lost for Finland, as Finland's newest Foreign Minister just visited Washington, DC and may soon get the honor of hosting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Helsinki.

Not mentioned in the HS article linked above is another European leader who is looking for his first invitation. That would be Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. He was elected in March, 2004 and shortly thereafter pulled all Spanish forces out of Iraq.

That is not the only reason for a lack of an invitation as Mr. Zapatero has also decided to back Cuba, acting on it's behalf in pushing the EU to relax it's stand against Cuba over some recent human rights abuses. In addition to Cuba, Spain has also gotten friendly with Venezuela's lunatic President Huga Chavez. Unlike Finland, Spain has had a recent visit by Secretary of State Rice. However, they are probably now wishing that they didn't:
All this came only a few weeks after a 1 June trip to Madrid by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (which the Socialist government had hoped would finally pave the way for Zapatero to receive a much-coveted invitation to visit the White House) ended in what the local press afterwards dubbed a "humiliating" public relations disaster for Spain.

Indeed, Rice, much to the dismay of her Spanish hosts, refused to play the game of pretending that US-Spain relations are back to normal. (In fact, bilateral relations have never recovered since Zapatero abruptly withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq in 2004, a problem that has been compounded by a steady stream of anti-American rhetoric spewing forth from the prime minister and his senior ministers.)

Instead, Rice used her visit to Madrid to publicly chide stone-faced Spanish officials for not doing more to support dissidents in Cuba. Referring to a controversial visit to Cuba in April by the hapless Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, who publicly boasted about his refusal to meet with members of the Cuban opposition, Rice said that: "Democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, meaning to support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that they can transition from one dictatorship to another." - Spero News
Both Finland and Spain have a good deal of anti-American sentiment. (Yes, there is the very pro-American contingents as well.) However, Spain's actions are in a completely different category than Finland, to some extent even acting against US foreign policy, including areas of concern shared by the European Union, such as human rights in Cuba and ensuring that Cuba does not transition to a new communist leader once Castro finally does die. There is concern that Spain's actions are solely for gaining access to Cuba's oil. That's fine as long as you don't mind screwing over Cuba's population for it. It's even worse when you try to proclaim that you are doing this for their benefit!

I however think that Spain's actions are simply the result of an anti-American view held by those currently in power, including that of Mr. Zapetero. You only need look as far as this post, where in 2003, he refused to stand up as the American honor guard passed during Spain's National Holiday Parade. (Once he become Prime Minister he just saw to it that the US not be invited, replacing them with honor guards from Cuba and Venezuela.) This is just silly behavior, that you would only expect from someone like Chavez. Even Castro would have stood up.

Well, every country is welcome to choose the friends that they keep. However, they should not expect us to want to come around and play with them.

Surely, Finland-US relations are on the mend. I can't say the same for US-Spain relations.


Note: Fred is married to a Finnish National and has lived in Finland from 1997-2001.

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