Does McCain Know Who the Prime Minister of Spain Is?

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Maybe McCain confused the Prime Minster of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with the Zapatistas.

I did a translation for a friend, regarding this Talking Points Memo post by Josh Marshall, and I thought I'd go ahead and post it on Citizen Orange. 

It appears that before Spanish media, McCain evaded the question of whether or not he would meet with the Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.  It's hard to tell without the audio, since I can't really read McCain's tone, but it seems as if he doesn't know who the Prime Minister of Spain is.
Here's a translation of this article in El Pais.

As much as four times the Republican candidate for the White House, John McCain, eluded a commitment to meeting with the chief of the Spanish government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, if he becomes the next president of the United States.

"I will meet with those leaders who are our friends and who want to work with us cooperatively," responded McCain, in an interview with broadcasters from the group Union Radio, which form part of the SER Chain. 

When the question was repeated, McCain limited himself to evasive answers.  "I can assure you that I will establish the deepest relations with our friends and I will "plant face" (which loosely means to hold one's ground, in my interpretation) with those that want to harm the United States," he said one time.  "I will reunite with any leader that has the same principles and philosophy that we do: human rights, democracy, and liberty.  And I will confront those that don't [have them]."

Asked about this, Zapatero responded yesterday regarding the importance of the vagueness of McCain.  "It's logical to have the necessary prudence.  There is an electoral process [pending]."
El Pais (18 September 2008)
Translation by Kyle de Beausset

The article goes on but that's the most important part of it.  It will be interesting to see if anything else shakes loose from this.

UPDATE:  Josh Marshall of TPM gave me a link to the audio


I hate when they translate over audio like this to the point where you can't hear the original.  I've tried really hard to hear the English in the background but it is pretty much inaudible to me.

My analysis is that the interviewers were very clear with McCain that Zapatero is the Prime Minister of Spain.  What McCain doesn't seem to be sure of, is if Spain is an ally of the United States or not.

I don't know what's worse, not knowing who the Prime Minister of Spain is, or being unsure about whether or not Spain is an actual an ally of the United States. 

There is at least one major gaffe when McCain is asked repeatedly about whether or not he would meet with Zapatero. 

The third time he is asked whether or not he will meet with the Prime Minister of Spain, he talks about the importance of the U.S.'s "relationship with Latin America."  The interviewer then says, "Okay, what about Europe?"

For someone who bases much of his candidacy on his national security credentials, it's embarrassing for McCain not to know what the U.S.'s strategic alliances are.  Not to mention that it is insulting to Spain that McCain refused to commit to meet with Zapatero.

The truth is the U.S.'s relationship to Spain has been complicated as of late.  Zapatero is a member of the center-left Spanish Socialist Worker's Party, and has deepened Spain's relationship with the left-wing governments of Latin America.  Zapatero's election, in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, resulted in Spain removing it's troops from Iraq.  In short, Zapetero's relationship with the United States has been a rocky one.

If someone else can hear through the Spanish translation to the original English, or has important insights into this, feel free to leave it in the comments section.

UPDATE II: This was post was linked to in the Huffington Post.  Sam Stein offers analysis on explanations for McCain's confusing remarks that are better than my midnight ramblings:

Already, several explanations are being offered to explain McCain's statements. As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo opined: "The great majority [of those who have weighed in] appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn't know who Zapatero was -- something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press. The assumption seems to be that since he'd already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy. A small minority though think that McCain is simply committed to an anti-Spanish foreign policy since he's still angry about Spain pulling it's troops out of Iraq."

If, in fact, that latter group is correct and McCain was just putting voice to an adversarial stance, it could be as quizzical as if he didn't know Zapatero's name in the first place. Indeed, such a take on U.S.-Spain relations puts McCain in a far more hard-lined position than even the Bush administration, which has warmed to the Spanish leader after a rocky initial period. Indeed, the State Department's website touts the Zapatero government, which came to power in April 2004, for supporting "coalition efforts in Afghanistan" as well as "reconstruction efforts in Haiti" and counterterrorism tasks across the globe.

Sam Stein - Huffington Post (18 September 2008)


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» Beware Subcomandante Zapatero! from Citizen Orange

John McCain, he of the purported decades of foreign policy experience, apparently doesn't know who the elected leader of Spain is, doesn't know where Spain is, or else simply won't back down once confronted.  None of these being hopeful signals... Read More

8 Comments

Allen said:

Plantar cara = "to face", "not to submit", "to have a confrontation".
http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1019725
So ...I'll take on the bad guys and support the good guys...


I think you're correct in guessing that McCain got Zapatero confused with Zapatistas in some way though, this sounds like the answer you would give if you didn't know to whom the interviewer was referring.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for the help with the plantar cara reference. It appears from the interview it was the translation for "standing up" to the U.S. enemies.

Translation can be a really subjective thing and I love it when multiple people contribute. I'm not a professional by any means and I take my liberties according to how I interpret things. Very frequently though, I understand what something means in Spanish, but have no idea how to translate it to English, or vice versa.

I think on two different tracks when it comes to the two languages.

jeez said:

eghm, zapatero is not the president, he is the PRIME MINISTER of spain. Spain is a monarchy. it's quite important, "mr. foreing policy expert" :)

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

You're absolutely right. I stand corrected. It's what I get for writing a post in the middle of the night on a whim. It started off as an email to a friend, but I thought I'd go ahead and post it.

I'll admit my mistakes when I make them.

svendem said:

Actually, apparently (this comes as news to me) they use the title of "President of government" for "Prime minister". I guess the Spanish press have taken to use "president" as shorthand.

The El País article in question also used the term "jefe del Gobierno" (head of government)

"Prime minister" would be the more common term in English, but .. it's their mistake to make.

It'd be worse if someone said "President of Germany" because they actually have one (Horst Köhler) that nobody knows about outside of Germany (and who nobody cares about inside of Germany).

My theory is that McCain was surprized to learn Franco's apparently gone, and was hedging his bets until he can find out whether the new guy is a Generalisimo" or not :)

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

That's actually why I got confused at first I was thinking in Spanish, but the correct translation is to English is Prime Minster. What can you do?

Alejandro Guerrero said:

Even if the "correct translation to English" for the job position of Zapatero is Prime Minister, the fact is that we call him President and he has a couple of Vice-Presidents. Even if it's a parliamentary democracy under a monarchic regime, the king is just symbolic (no real power, every word has to be approved by the President) and the system is naturally evolving towards a presidentialist feeling.

Patrick said:

People are going to elect this idiot and his sub-idiotstress? God, I hope not.

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