The Country That Cries Wolf
PARIS — Philip Gordon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, visited his European clients earlier this month to ask for more European cooperation. The United States has elected a president all but universally admired in Western Europe’s most influential circles. If they like the man so much, why is there not more enthusiasm for the Obama administration’s foreign policy? Where are more European NATO troops to fight the Taliban and keep al-Qaida from making a return? “Europe,” Gordon said, “is as vulnerable as we are, if not more so.”
At this point, most of his European auditors have probably tuned out. Vulnerable to what? He said that “since the 11th of September  Europe has been struck more often than the United States by terrorists who have their refuge in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
It is true there have been more bombings or attempted bombings in Western Europe since 9/11 than in the United States (where there have been none). But neither al-Qaida nor Taliban from Afghanistan have committed them. The bombings have mostly been the work of estranged Muslims who live in Europe, with grievances of their own.
The only successful terrorist bombings in France during the past quarter-century were carried out by Algerian Islamist sympathizers to punish France for keeping up relations with an Algerian military government then attempting — by brutal measures — to put down an even more brutal Islamic fundamentalist campaign indiscriminately killing Algerian civilians. This was long before anyone outside security circles had heard of al-Qaida.
The Madrid train bombings and the attacks on the London Underground were copycat affairs inspired by 9/11, but according to security and police sources were local affairs having nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and his friends residing in the Afghanistan badlands.
What was Gordon talking about? The Bush administration liked to admonish the Europeans that they were in greater danger than the United States from attack by Iranian nuclear missiles — if there were any. This was in the context of the Polish-Czech anti-missile systems that also, at the time, did not exist and were planned to counter Iranian nuclear missiles. This was assuming that one day there would be Iranian nuclear missiles that the Iranians would be disposed to use to attack Europe, for reasons presently unknown.
This is the problem people like Philip Gordon meet during these thankless missions to Europe to urge the Europeans to send more troops to support the United States in Iraq (yesterday), Afghanistan (today), and (I fear) Pakistan or Somalia or Kashmir tomorrow. They are working inside Never-Never Land strategic schemes based on implausible assumptions and hypothetical threats and responses.
First, after 9/11 it was the invasion of Afghanistan the allies were supposed to support. To attack al-Qaida’s base, and try to seize its leaders and members, was perfectly justified. But why did the Taliban regime and army have to be subjected to slaughter by B-52s, and why did Afghanistan’s government have to be handed back, amid profuse international professions of good will, to what proved to be essentially the same conditions of disorder and warlordism that prevailed after the Soviet defeat?
Next, everyone was supposed to join the invasion of Iraq to seize the weapons of mass destruction that were said to have threatened international peace but proved not to exist. There is no need to go on. But it doesn’t require great perspicacity to understand why the European allies have tired of the cries of “wolf! wolf!” regularly heard from Washington.
The British respond because since 1944 such has been the cold and calculated policy of the Foreign Office: Humor the Americans. Susceptible prime ministers like Tony Blair fall for White House glamour. The Foreign Office doesn’t, nor does the War Office (now politically corrected to Ministry of Defense), responsible for supplying the human price that has to be paid. The Danes and the Dutch usually step up to the plate (to use the idiom increasingly heard from Europeans). Other West Europeans are inclined to think twice, or thrice.
The “new Europeans” have gone along because they have an engrained fear of Russia, and the United States seems the only source of available protection. They don’t trust Western Europe.
Officials such as Philip Gordon regularly travel to Europe to ask for support for U.S. initiatives. The Europeans reply that they have not been consulted in making these policies. The Americans say we will be happy to discuss them, but we are putting up most of the men and money, so it’s too late to change anything. Maybe next time.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.Wait, before you go…
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