Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

World Politics 101

For a man who’s been in politics longer than most Georgetown students have been alive, settling into a new life could certainly be an adjustment.

But for former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who just completed his first week at Georgetown as a visiting professor, the transition has been easier than expected.

“To come here to Georgetown, after the experience of government for so many years,” he says with a grin spreading across his face, “I’ve found that there is life after government.” Aznar spoke casually about his first week at Georgetown while offering his take on current events during a 45-minute interview Friday morning.

The former head of state spent last week at Georgetown and will return in November, February and April. As a distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership, Aznar delivered the first of two scheduled public lectures last Tuesday, where he outlined his seven theories on fighting and defeating terrorism.

In addition to public lectures, Aznar has been visiting with different classes and speaking on the current situation in Iraq and the political transition from dictatorship to democracy – the same transition Spain made in the late 1970s after the death of Ferdinand Franco, who ruled the nation from 1939-1975.

While politics may have offered its challenges, the former tax inspector and government leader said that teaching and giving numerous detailed lectures in English was “not easy,” noting the many firsts he had last week.

“This is the first time in my life I am teaching. This is my first week in Georgetown. This is my first class in English,” he offered.

University President John J. DeGioia awarded Aznar with the President’s Medal during a visit last January and the teaching position was announced in April, two weeks before Aznar handed over the government to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero’s come-from-behind election win over Aznar’s replacement, Mariano Rajoy, came three days after the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history when bombs ripped through commuter trains in Madrid, killing nearly 200.

Aznar’s government, which had joined the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq last year, had originally blamed the Basque terrorist group ETA for the attacks.

But when evidence in the attacks implicated the al-Qaeda terror group, Spanish voters ousted Aznar’s Partido Popular, electing instead the socialist candidate Zapatero, who had pledged to bring home Spain’s 1,300 troops in Iraq.

Aznar, who has watched the new government dismantle his legacy, called the move a “disaster.”

“Exactly this is the design for the terrorists,” he said. “International relations are the same as personal relations. Between friends it is necessary to have trust. You lose the trust, and the consequences are very great. Between enemies, it is necessary to have respect. If you lose the respect of enemies, it is dangerous.”

Aznar, who has led Spain’s conservative Partido Popular since 1990, lost in national elections in 1989 and 1993. But he went on to defeat the ruling socialist party, serving two terms as prime minister beginning in 1996.

His first four years saw Spain’s economic growth outpace most of Europe, cutting unemployment in half and reining in inflation, which led to a resounding reelection win in 2000.

“I hope that this is remembered as an era of prosperity for Spain,” he said. “Spain is now the eighth-largest economy of the world. This prosperous economic modernization is a big measure of my time in government.”

But Aznar said that he would also be remembered for cementing Spain’s role in international affairs, describing the country as “strong, ambitious and prosperous.”

His second term was marked more by foreign policy, leading Spain to war in Iraq alongside the U.S. and Great Britain despite massive domestic opposition – as many as 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the war in March 2003.

Aznar’s leadership style contrasts sharply with his successor, Zapatero, who told Time magazine last week that he wanted to be a good democrat, not a great leader: “I accept that when an overwhelming majority of citizens says something, they are right.”

Aznar said he believed that especially in democracies, people deserve strong leaders. “Of course they should listen to the people, but they make the decisions – this is what they were elected to do. A democratic leader listens always. But to lead is the capacity to make difficult decisions.”

While Aznar admitted that no government could be perfect on every issue, he said he hoped his decisions had been positive on the whole.

“In politics it is stupid to think that all of the decisions are correct,” he said. “The balance of my government was positive. We had protection and we had stability.”

Aznar, who worked closely with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush in the run-up to war, emphatically described Bush as a strong leader.

“In the world at this moment, it is very important to me to have strong leaders,” he said. “You can agree or disagree with President Bush – that is possible. But I think it is very clear that President Bush is a strong leader.”

As for the upcoming presidential elections, Aznar conceded, “I have my preference.”

But when prodded to name if he favored Bush over Sen. John Kerry, he refused.

“I am a former politician,” he joked. “I got out of politics, so I am done making predictions.”

These elections, he added, were being closely watched all over the world.

“A European student asked me what was most important right now in Europe,” he said. “I told him three things are very, very important. One, the American elections. Two, the American elections. And three, the American elections.”

On Iraq, Aznar defended his decision to join the American-led coalition despite the inability to find weapons of mass destruction and the increasing insurgency.

“In general, Saddam is a threat for the world,” he said. “I believe that the world is better without Saddam.”

On the same day that Aznar delivered his address in last Tuesday in Gaston Hall, his successor made his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly in Iraq.

And while Zapatero offered to work with the United Nations to lead a global effort to mediate differences between the Muslim and Western world, Aznar’s assessment of the U.N. – after the Security Council passed a unanimous resolution in 2002 calling on Saddam Hussein to disarm or face “serious consequences” – was far less optimistic.

“If we put a resolution before the U.N., if the U.N. is indifferent, if it is not respecting its resolutions,” he said, “then it has condemned itself.”

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