There is no closer tie than the one forged by blood shed at the hands of a common enemy. The horrors of March 11 and September 11 should bind Europe and America together through shared grief, anger, and a determination to stop Islamic terrorism. Yet the opposite appears to be happening. The terrorists' easy success in unseating a pro-U.S. government in Spain threatens to widen the already great divide separating Europe and America. Should that rift become permanent, what is fast becoming a Cold War against Islamic terrorism will suffer deeply.
It is time for America and Europe to return to first principles and put differences over Iraq behind them. Islamic terrorists are not waging a war against just the U.S. but against all Western values -- individual freedom, women's rights, democracy, capitalism. It is a battle that pits the atavistic forces of totalitarian fundamentalism against modernity itself. It will last generations, will be fought globally, and will be won only through the close cooperation of U.S., European, and Middle Eastern peoples, not just the leaders who govern them.
The apt analogy is the Cold War. It is time to think not in terms of specific tactics, policies, or battles but in terms of an enduring campaign with an overarching theme that unites America and its allies against a common enemy. The defeat of communism was accomplished by a combination of military, political, and economic policies over a long period. From the time the Soviet Union lowered an Iron Curtain across Europe until the day the Berlin Wall fell, nearly half a century passed. The U.S. pumped billions into Western Europe through the Marshall Plan, generating economic growth and jobs to curb the immense power of Communist Parties in France and Italy and keep them from taking over. The Truman Doctrine provided U.S. military aid to Greece to defeat communist insurgents. Lest we forget, battles large and small raged around the globe. Some were won, some lost.
Throughout the Cold War, there were big differences between Europe and America, yet neither side ever lost sight of the commonality of their goal. In the end, communism was defeated not only because of overwhelming U.S. military might but because America created an alternative economic and political system that people everywhere chose to join.
This is precisely the task ahead if we hope to defeat violent extremism. The U.S. and Europe must find a way to fight a long war against terrorism without losing the advantages of open societies and globalization. They must concede that differences between them will continue, yet remain committed to a common goal. And they must create Marshall Plan equivalents for the Middle East to build modern economic and political alternatives for Arab children so they won't be drawn to a life of intolerance, ignorance, and suicidal fanaticism.
The March 11 bombings are an opportunity for the Bush Administration to reach out to Europe. It is a moment we must seize to build a broad, antiterrorist campaign with Europe with the scope of the Cold War. Yet Washington's response to the horrors of Madrid has been strangely weak. There have been a few -- too few -- warm words of solidarity, but no grand gesture. The White House appears frozen, locked in Presidential campaign mode, unable to take advantage of what is a critical time for moving beyond differences that divide to common causes that unite Europe and the U.S.
The Target Is All Open Societies
The danger is that policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic will take away the wrong lessons from Madrid. If Europeans believe that the bombings teach the need to disengage -- that terrorism can be avoided by isolating themselves from the U.S. -- they are paving the way for more havoc. There were those on both the left and right in Europe before March 11 who thought they could avoid terrorism by focusing on internal business, keeping their heads down, and appeasing the Arab world with a pro-Palestinian stance. They are now calling for Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands to distance themselves from the U.S. by withdrawing troops from Iraq, as the new Socialist government in Spain promises to do.
There is growing popular support for this disengagement. The latest European survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows enormous -- and growing -- mistrust of U.S. leadership, and public demands to separate from the U.S. in foreign and security policy.
Yet for all the disagreement over Iraq, Europe cannot escape terrorism by isolating itself from America. The videotape celebrating the killing of 200 innocent people in Madrid said it was in response to Spain's "crimes" committed by supporting the U.S. against the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. Spain was attacked because it opposed the kind of intolerant fundamentalism that threatens everyone in the West. France, too, is accused of "participating in a hateful crusade against Islam" by Islamic radicals because of its new policy of banning the head scarf in public classrooms. And Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands bred al Qaeda cells long before the U.S. invaded Iraq. There is no escape for Europe. Islamic fundamentalism opposes Western democracies not for what they do but for what they are.
The parallel danger is that the U.S. misreads Madrid and isolates itself further from Europe. Many in Washington see the defeat of its Spanish government ally following the March 11 terrorist attack as another example of feckless, unreliable Europeans who turn tail under pressure. The Bush White House, perhaps unduly influenced by Robert Kagan's book,
, sees Europe as effete, weak, inward-looking, and lacking fortitude in the fight against radical fundamentalists. The Administration has been especially demeaning to France.
Kagan is dead wrong about most of Europe, and about France in particular. France is a natural ally of the U.S. in battling global terrorism because it has an intimate knowledge of the enemy and the terrain. It has been fighting Islamic fundamentalism far longer than America has -- and has been a repeated target of Islamic terrorism since the early '80s. France has been helping the Algerian military suppress a bloody Islamist insurrection for over a decade. It has supported Egypt in its battle against terrorists. On Mar. 3 it outlawed the wearing of head scarves in public schools. While Americans might interpret this as infringing on religious freedom, the French see it as a reaffirmation of their nation's commitment to a secular, modern society.
There is nothing effete about France's military, either. The country spends about as much on it as the U.S. and Britain -- 3 1/2% to 4% of gross domestic product -- and stations about the same percentage of its troops overseas -- 25% of its operational forces. It has 200 special-forces soldiers chasing Osama bin Laden along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. France broke with the U.S. over Iraq, but it is in full agreement when it comes to terrorism. Indeed, after March 11, France's influential center-left newspaper Le Monde wrote: "Europeans may now be forced to admit that a new form of world war has been declared."
Policy of Prevention
It is increasingly clear that the Bush Administration's unilateralism in Iraq created a major diversion from the larger war against terrorism and a major division among the allies in fighting it. The September 11 World Trade Center catastrophe and the war in Afghanistan brought the U.S. and Europe as close as they have ever been in fighting a common enemy. But the White House's adherence to a one-sided foreign policy led the U.S. into Iraq without the legitimacy of either NATO, the U.N., or a coalition of all the major nations that have stood with America in times past. Unilateralism, not terrorism, separated Europe from America.
What is needed now is a new, inclusive, Cold War-type foreign policy that binds the U.S. and Europe together in what will be a long war against Islamic terrorism. Containment provided the overarching intellectual framework for conducting a multilateral foreign policy against communism. As the Bush Administration correctly pointed out after September 11, suicidal terrorists cannot be contained. They must be prevented from acting. Preventing terrorist cells from operating inside Europe and the U.S. and preventing countries around the world from aiding them should be the top priority. Agreeing on a set of rules of prevention, as America and its allies agreed on the rules of containment, is the key task ahead.
Whether Europe recognizes it or Washington admits it, the U.S. has been moving closer to Europe on major foreign policy issues. Creeping multilateralism has been replacing strict unilateralism in the Bush Administration for more than a year. After unilaterally tearing up the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and walking away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, the White House has turned to China for help in defusing the North Korea nuclear-arms problem, the International Atomic Energy Agency for help in denuking Iran, and France in stabilizing Haiti.
The Bush Administration also realizes that it lacks legitimacy in Iraq and is returning to the U.N. for help. Despite America's massive power and good intentions, even those liberated from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship want the U.S. to get the U.N.'s blessing for setting up free elections. Iraq is also showing the limits of U.S. power. America's military is stretched between the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its budget is sagging under the expense of the occupation. The U.S. needs Europe to shoulder some of the burden.
The U.S. and Europe also share common views on the Middle East. Despite differences over how to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both agree that the remaking of the Middle East demands the draining of the swamp of poverty, ignorance, and dictatorship. America's unilateral invasion and the postwar chaos alienated Europeans and some Iraqis. But there's no denying that on the ground, the situation is finally improving. Oil production is back up to prewar levels. And a year after the launch of the U.S. war against Saddam, two surveys, by ABC News and BBC News, show that Iraqis feel better today than under Saddam. By two- and sometimes three-to-one, Iraqis say schools, crime, electricity, medical care, clean water, even security is better, according to ABC. And it's worth remembering, amid the headlines of continued bombings in Baghdad, that 80% of Iraqis are Kurds and Shiites who live in regions that are mostly peaceful.
New Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is simply wrong in saying that "the war in Iraq was a disaster, and the occupation continues to be a disaster." In four months, sovereignty will pass from America to Iraq under U.N. auspices, and free elections will be held months after that. This vision for bringing representative government and human rights to the Middle East is one that Europe shares with America. The June hand-off of sovereignty to Iraqis could be the moment when Europe and the U.S. get beyond their differences on the runup to the war to work together to build a prosperous, democratic Iraq.
March 11, like September 11, was a day of such deep tragedy and trauma that it shifts the course of history. But which way? If al Qaeda succeeds in splitting Europe from America by spilling innocent blood, it will have won a victory of monumental proportions. If, instead, the U.S. and Europe find the will to recognize their common values and their common enemy, the job of preparing for the new Cold War against Islamic terrorism can truly begin.
By Bruce Nussbaum
With John Rossant in Paris and Stan Crock in Washington