Like most of my reading friends, I am continually astonished that an artist as brilliant and sensitive as Mario Vargas Llosa can co-habit the same brain as the idiotic and tone-deaf political pundit who writes the usually absurd but articulate pronouncements every Sunday in the Opinión page of El País. I admire the fiction –especially Vargas Llosa’s ability to project himself into imagined lives very different from his own and capture their rhythms of speech and thought – and have posted a few of my notes on it here. But now, as the latest example in the series of foolish statements, he had this to say Sunday about the elections in Iraq: That the unexpectedly big turnout in spite of all the threats proves that Bush was right to invade and Zapatero wrong to pull out Spain’s troops.
By now we are sadly accustomed to MV LL’s heavy sarcasm when he chastises his former friends on the left, still catty so many years after the breakup of his romance with Marxism. Yet he still wants to present himself as a freethinker of liberal and democratic views, and imagines that those who applaud him are also liberal, democratic and freethinking. You’d think his credulity would have snapped when he was invited to be a mouthpiece for the neo-Falangism of José María Aznar, but no, he happily accepted the offered award and lent (and sullied) his literary prestige by speaking for Aznar’s think-tank, whose name I don’t recall but could be Center for Anti-Democratic Thought.
Back to Iraq: What the big turnout in horrible conditions shows is that Iraqis are desperate to do something, anything, to regain some control of their destiny. The determination of so many to vote was indeed impressive.
But that in no way justifies Bush’s infliction of “shock and awe” (Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase for Blitzkrieg) and U.S. military occupation. “Democracy” was not the U.S.’s announced aim at all, but now – since direct military rule has failed so miserably to pacify the country and remake it in an American image – some degree of self-government for Iraqis may seem like the best available option. Especially with a constitution written so as to guarantee continued exploitive rights for U.S. corporations.
Vargas Llosa asks if, now that the elections are over, “may a suspicion arise in the mind of the Spanish Government that, perhaps, it was premature to withdraw its troops from Iraq as precipitously as it did?” and so on.
I doubt it. The leaders of the current Spanish Government seem to have a very clear understanding of their democratic obligations and to have very great respect for the established rules of civilization. Unprovoked invasion is always against those rules, and is probably the worst way imaginable to bring about a transition toward democracy. Spain has long experience in just such a transition from a lawless, anti-democratic regime, which is one of the main reasons Spain’s electorate was overwhelmingly opposed to their country’s participation in the occupation of Iraq. The withdrawal of troops was a central campaign promise of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. To the surprise of some, he fulfilled it. It was the democratic thing to do.