WASHINGTON, DC–During a White House meeting with visiting Spanish prime minister and fellow allied-forces leader Jose Maria Aznar, President Bush subconsciously sized up Spain for invasion Monday.
"Aznar was pledging his ongoing support for the Iraqi war effort when, out of nowhere, this odd look came across George's face," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said. "He sat quiet for a moment, like he was going to say something, but then he just shook his head as if to chase the thought away."
At the meeting, Aznar ruled out sending Spanish combat troops to Iraq but pledged to provide a hospital vessel, a mine-clearing unit, a team of chemical-detection experts, and several oil tankers.
"And you have no nuclear weapons, right?" Bush asked Aznar. "And no chemical or biological weapons or anything like that? Just curious."
Aznar also promised that if Iraq attacks neighboring Turkey, he would contribute six F-18 warplanes, a Hercules C-130 refueling plane, and a search-and-rescue helicopter.
"The Hercules C-130," said Bush, staring off into the distance. "Those are pretty old. Hmm."
As the conversation turned toward the siege of Baghdad, Bush interrupted and returned to the subject of Spain's military strength–or lack thereof.
"So, all in all, your country has 105,000 standing troops total?" Bush said. "That's it?"
Aznar later told Bush that Spain's King Juan Carlos sent his greetings, once again piquing the president's interest.
"It seems a bit outdated to have a king," Bush said. "Are your people happy with him? Do you think your people would rather rule themselves, like in a democracy?"
Aznar explained that Spain is a constitutional monarchy.
"The prime minister must be approved by our legislature," Aznar told Bush. "You see, each of our autonomous regions has its own regional government and exercises legislative and executive authority in the manner outlined by the national constitution."
Bush then asked about Spain's longstanding troubles with separatist groups.
"That situation with the Catalans and the Basques," Bush said. "How serious is that?"
When Aznar inquired as to why Bush was asking, the president said he "was just wondering, for no reason."
"There was something strange about his questions, although I cannot put my finger on it," Aznar said. "And he seemed very excited about the anti-government protests in Madrid a few days ago, until I told him they were protesting our involvement in the Iraq war."
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was in attendance, also noticed some unusual behavior on the part of Bush.
"During the meeting, the president was absentmindedly doodling on some documents, one of which had a map of Europe on it," Powell said. "I noticed he drew a series of arrows originating on the Canary Islands and moving in toward Madrid."
Powell recalled that during last month's summit in the Azores, Bush seemed oddly fixated on Spain.
"[Bush] said Spain didn't seem to be all that prosperous for a nation whose main export is oil," Powell said. "I told him Spain doesn't produce a lot of oil. Finally, we figured he must've been thinking of olive oil, and we both had a big laugh about it."
Powell said that upon returning home from the Azores summit, Bush continued to insist that "there is some big oil-producing nation that speaks Spanish."
"I told him he must be thinking of Venezuela," Powell said. "They are very rich in oil. So now he wants a full report on Venezuela by Monday. Ever since this war with Iraq, he's been a real geography buff."