Former Spanish prime minister stands by foreign policy decisions

Former prime minister of Spain, José Marîa Aznar speaks Wednesday night in the Elliott School of International Affairs about the 2004 Madrid train bombings and his 8 years in office. Michael Boosalis | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Elise Lee.

José María Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain, defended his handling of the 2004 terrorism attacks in his country and his decision to send troops into Iraq at the Elliott School of International Affairs Wednesday night.

The event, co-sponsored by the International Affairs Society and the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, drew a standing-room only crowd in the City View Room.

Aznar, who led Spain from 1996 to 2004 as a right-wing People’s Party politician, reflected on the Iraq War, which he supported despite little public support in the country for the war. He said he went forward with sending troops despite imperfect information, like whether Iraq held weapons of mass destruction.

“Information comes in discrete pieces, full of noise and distractions. If the question is whether it is possible to take decisions based on incomplete and imperfect information, the answer can only be a resounding ‘yes,’” Aznar said. “This is because exercising power means exactly that: exercising authority, making decisions and taking action.”

Aznar, the country’s first conservative leader since Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, stepped down from his distinguished scholar position at Georgetown’s School of Service last May. He sits on the board of directors of the media conglomerate News Corporation.

After Aznar left office in 2004, the new Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero pulled troops from Iraq. The move as a mistake that hurt Spain’s relations with the U.S., Aznar said.

“I am against war. At the time, in the interest of my country, I supported this decision,” he said.

Aznar’s People’s Party was ousted from its rule three days after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 – the worst terrorist attack the country ever faced – which killed 192 people.

“In order to combat terrorism, there is no strategy that really counts. In my opinion, it is the will to defeat it,” he said.

The socialist government that succeeded him was too friendly with the Basque separatist group ETA, which Aznar had blamed for the attacks. Homegrown radicals were later convicted of the bombings.

“When I left office terrorist group ETA was almost finished. After 2004, the new government believed that they could engage ETA by living aside them, [which] proved to have negative consequences in my opinion,” he said.

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