Born in 1960, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is the Prime Minister of Spain and Secretary General of the Socialist Party (PSOE). First joining the Socialist Party as a teenager in 1979, Zapatero took over as its leader in 2000.
Zapatero was elected Prime Minister in March 2004, in the aftermath of deadly train bombings in Madrid, on a campaign pledge to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq by June of that year. In his first post-election interview, Zapatero attributed his victory to widespread disaffection with the Iraq War, although he had trailed in the polls prior to the attacks. He also lashed out at President George W. Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair, charging that they had “organise[d] a war with lies.” Further straining his relationship with President Bush, Zapatero explicitly endorsed Democratic nominee John Kerry for U.S. President. “We’re aligning ourselves with Kerry,” Zapatero announced. “Our allegiance will be for peace, against war, no more deaths for oil, and for a dialogue between the government of Spain and the new Kerry administration.” Zapatero, who had used several crude epithets to attack President Bush, nonetheless said that his administration should be seen as an ally of the United States because “a true friend is one who says what he thinks.”
In the realm of policy, Zapatero has sought to curtail American influence in Europe and to make the European Union (EU) a counterweight to an American worldview that, as he sees it, is primarily responsible for fueling international conflict. “Today,” Zapatero has said, “France, Germany and Spain have less of a unitary view of the world [than the U.S.]. We have a conception that we need a world of civilizations and understanding. The clash of civilizations can't become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Zapatero has also said that “Europe must believe that it can be in 20 years the most important world power,” and has repeatedly expressed his desire to “arrange the European future at the side of France and Germany.” Zapatero has advocated using the European constitution to draft a common foreign policy for the EU. “In 15 to 20 years we will surely have a foreign service for the EU,” he has promised.
Zapatero’s foreign policy views have repeatedly put him at odds with the United States. Beyond opposing the Iraq War, which he says has led to “radicalization, fanaticism, conflict and instability,” Zapatero favors a more charitable assessment of Iran, and has supported Iran’s right to a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes. Over American objections, Zapatero also insisted in January of 2006 on Spain’s going ahead with the sale of $2 billion in military equipment to Venezuela’s anti-American President, Hugo Chavez.
A committed socialist, Zapatero has described his own outlook as “feminist,” and has said that “[s]exual equality is a lot more effective against terrorism than military strength.” Zapatero further believes that the cause of terrorism is “a sea of universal injustice.”
Since assuming office, Zapatero has strained Spain’s ties with Israel, most recently in July of 2006, when he donned a Palestinian headscarf at a rally for young Socialists. At that appearance, Zapatero also condemned Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah terrorist attacks. “No one should defend themselves with abusive force which does not protect innocent human beings,” Zapatero said of Israeli military operations. He called on the United Nations and European Union to "actively intervene" to stop the fighting. The Prime Minister’s criticism was consistent with his claim that “fighting terrorism with bombs ... isn't the way to defeat terrorism,” and that “terrorism is combated by the state of law.”