True, Spain's new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, campaigned on a pledge to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. And true, polls showed that almost 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the troops being there in the first place.
But Zapatero could have waited until June 30, the official date when Iraqis technically resume control of their country. Or he could have given the United Nations a little more time to come up with a new resolution, the only way Zapatero said he would let the troops stay.
He did neither. Less than 24 hours after being sworn in, he ordered that his soldiers be withdrawn "as soon as possible."
Spain's new Socialist government insists that this action is not anti-American or a capitulation to the March 11 Madrid terror bombing that killed 191 people. But it sure looks that way.
The pullout of 1,200 Spaniards will not materially affect the forces in Iraq. But their departure is incontestably a setback for Bush administration strategy. It will be seen in large parts of the Arab world as the start of a Western retreat.
Certainly in Iraq it will be an incentive for insurgents to keep up their attacks and perhaps target other members of the 23-nation international force in hopes that they'll depart, too.
Already Muqtada al-Sadr, the vehemently anti-American mullah holed up in Najaf, is urging the insurgents to "maintain the safety of the Spanish forces until their return home," in hopes that other governments in the coalition will "follow the Spanish government's example." Surely, Zapatero could have seen that coming.
Zapatero's new government seems almost desperately anxious not to let the pullout damage U.S.-Spanish relations. He phoned President Bush Monday morning. The White House refused to characterize the tone of the call, but it was likely a frosty five minutes. And Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is due in Washington Wednesday with the uphill assignment of placating the Bush administration and key members of Congress.
Moratinos promised that relations would be even "wider and more attractive" under the new government. Leaving us in the lurch in Iraq is a strange way of getting started.