Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 /1 Tamuz, 5762
Europe, long waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the US on the world stage, is clueless to terror's threat
All spring, European politicians have berated the US over its ambitions to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq, its treatment of al-Qaeda detainees, and its support for Ariel Sharon's efforts to root out suicide bombers. A full four months after President George W. Bush spoke of the "axis of evil", the phrase still rankles; on his recent visit the president was castigated as a cowboy.
Now Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, has struck back. Mr. Zoellick pointedly seized the occasion of an event commemorating German-American friendship to note that it was difficult for Americans "to fathom European leaders who jump to a microphone to criticize US incarceration of Taliban and al-Qaeda butchers based on one photo, but not facts. This is not a question of political dissent - this is mass murder. For the pacifists, the fearful or the Schadenfreude critics of the United States, I can only suggest that America will pursue its interest in self-defence, which we proffer is in Europe's interest too."
Mr. Zoellick's blunt remarks - delivered at a forum hosted by the German Marshall Fund at the Bundestag - reflect the vast gap that has emerged between Europe and the US since September 11. Part of that difference has to do with the simple fact that the US was directly attacked on a mass scale and Europe was not. But there is a greater force at work here.
Europe has long been waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the US on the world stage. Now the cold war is over, that political opportunity has arrived, and Europe wants to seize it. But it cannot put forward a single strategy for the war on terrorism - its nation states still hold sway over foreign policy. Instead, Europeans give vent to a thousand criticisms.
Consider Europe's state of evolution, pre-September 11. For decades, with great effort, Europe has concentrated on building itself into a single economic and political unit. It originally planned, for example, that the big event of spring 2002 would be its constitutional convention; the political development of Europe would seal the economic integration marked by the Euro's debut.
Implicit in this formal and elegant program was the notion that the greatest threat of war to Europe still emanated from Europe itself. If Europe could become a single entity, the threat of war would subside. Europe has placed so much faith in the notion of a united continent as its salvation that it tends to regard threats from abroad as an annoying distraction from its unifying work. Terror? It can be controlled at airports (indeed, Europe does a better job of that than the US). War? There will be none in a united Europe.
This attitude is understandable, given the history of the cold war. That period, after all, was an emasculating one for Europe: as the Aspen Institute's director Jeffrey Gedmin has noted, it played "deputy to the US sheriff". America arrived in Europe to help conquer the Nazis, then swiftly shifted its agenda to battling against the Soviets. This switch was convenient to many Europeans, especially Germans: suddenly, they were no longer the main political demon.
Europe wants a chance this time - for once! - to determine its own destiny. It hopes that if it continues building itself into a economic and political unit, threats will subside. It therefore seeks to view all the current challenges as discrete: the Iraqi threat is different from al-Qaeda's threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict owes more to US support for Israeli excess than radical Islam's general hostility to the west and democracy.
Europe's mind is still fixed on the ideal European state, one that recognizes the wrongs of the second world war and one that will not be bossed around by the US. It values multilateralism precisely because multilateralism has institutionalized its new authority on the world stage, an authority painfully gained over 50 years. This last point, while not often articulated, is perhaps the most important.
From the US point of view though, Europe is acting like an ostrich, ignoring the bitter reality that terror's arm will strike it too. The US cannot understand Europe's hesitations about US plans for extended campaigns: after all, there is evidence that al-Qaeda did much of its preparatory work in Hamburg. There is the fact that would-be bomber Richard Reid picked up his killer basketball shoes in Amsterdam. Americans feel that if Europe is not with the US, it is complicit with the terrorists, if only because it provides an environment where terrorists can hide.
Especially shocking has been the German reaction to the burning of German tourists by a fundamentalist terrorist who firebombed a synagogue in Tunisia. This was treated in the German press largely as a story of humanity - how to save the survivors - rather than a signal to go to arms.
The White House was disconcerted by European incomprehension over its concerns about Iraq. As Mr. Bush noted, Iraq is a country that has gassed its own people. Europe may believe that the US is exaggerating the risks, universalizing its problems out of an apocalyptic sense of its own importance. The US administration believes the terror is not a psychological construct; it is an external threat to western survival, like a hurricane or a volcano. America wishes the war would go away too, but thinks it will not.
One could argue, of course, that Europe is making a cold calculation: that it is not a terrorist target, while the US is. But such a calculation ignores terror's incoherence: Osama bin Laden killed Europeans and American Muslims along with the others on the upper floors of the World Trade Center. Europe and America are in this battle together. It would be a tragedy if it took an attack on their home soil for Europeans to recognize that.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times
. Her latest book is
The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.
06/04/02: A Cold Warrior's lessons for the Middle East
05/21/02: Geography does matter when it comes to development, but aid must nonetheless be linked to good governance
05/14/02: The increasing number of new claims is hurting innocent companies and making a mockery of the Common Law system
05/09/02: Aid, development and guilt in our times of terror
04/30/02: Wine lovers may at last be able to stray across state borders. The Internet is coming to the aide of free trade
04/23/02: Taxation by way of Madison Avenue
04/17/02: Special relationships and free trade do not mix
04/08/02: Is terror the flip side of globalization?
03/20/02 Bush gives aid but seeks results
03/13/02 The Danger in policy by numbers
02/26/02: States' smokescreen for tax hypocrisy
02/20/02: Echoes of leadership against a global threat
02/13/02: Jackson Vanik May be a Useful Analogy When Thinking About the Middle East
02/07/02: Budgeting for victory: Requiem for a peace dividend
02/05/02: The detectives of 1930s pulp fiction had a nose for clients bearing gifts. Sadly, those consulted by Enron did not
01/22/02: Allow all American children a decent chance
01/15/02: Do not disturb the profit-sharing revolution
01/09/02: It is dangerous to elevate a currency as a political emblem if the need for other economic reforms is obscured
01/03/02: There is only one way for a free thinker to bring up children
12/20/01: Why America's economy always bounces back
12/18/01: When it comes to taxes, Washington lawmakers can learn a thing or two from The Honeymooners
12/13/01: Bush opens a new era
12/12/01: A flamboyant reversal for the Democratic party
12/06/01: Threat of an oil embargo on the U.S. is a bluff
11/29/01: Which is more important--the war or diplomatic comity?
11/20/01: Unbalanced by a wealth of oil and diamonds
10/17/01: Afghanistan Needs a General MacArthur
09/27/01: The US has gained an understanding of the costs of war for which its European allies have hitherto wished in vain
09/13/01: War against terrorism will rise from the ashes
08/15/01: Geography is no excuse for the state's economic stagnation. Its policymakers should take a leaf from Ireland's book
08/07/01: Teamsters may pay a heavy price for winning its batle in Congress
07/25/01: Towards a patent-free nirvana?
07/17/01: History proves the lasting value of tax cuts
07/10/01: Stem cell research has awakened a bitter debate in Washington but voters care more about other electoral issues
07/03/01: America foots the bill for Europe's largesse
06/26/01: America the litigious, land of the lawyer's fee
06/20/01: Five reasons for gloom about global growth
06/18/01: Show pity for Alice in Tax Wonderland
06/13/01: America must take a French lesson in trade
06/11/01: Time to dream the impossible dream for Iraq
06/07/01: Whatever happened to simple?
06/04/01: When the relationship between companies becomes as close as a marriage, the eventual break-up is often very painful
06/01/01: Loving and hating the Bush tax bill
05/30/01: Will Grisham soon be unemployed? In America's courts these days, there's no room left over for legal fiction
05/22/01: Republicans sample the rhetoric of confidence
05/16/01: Boeing has been promised $60m to site its headquarters in Illinois. The deal looks a poor one for taxpayers
05/14/01: Adam Smith in love
05/09/01: Those rotten Russian capitalists
05/07/01: Why tax havens provide shelter for everyone
05/04/01: Middle classes pay for get-the-rich folly
05/01/01: Money can't buy happiness? Think again.
04/26/01: Calling America's rogues and entrepreneurs
04/19/01: High earners right to feel lonely at the top
04/11/01: The right must learn the comfort of strangers
04/04/01: When domestic law arrives by the back door
03/30/01: A Lexus tax cut suits the jalopy driver
03/27/01: The unchallenged dominance of King Dollar
03/20/01: Natural selection of an intellectual aristocracy
03/16/01: The hidden danger of a regulatory recession
03/14/01: Is the American condition that boring? Why so many Oscar nominated movies aren't set in America
03/07/01: Trampling on the theory of path dependence
03/05/01: Fighting the good fight
03/01/01: It is time for Fannie and Freddie to grow up
02/27/01: IT's important
02/22/01: The guilty conscience of America's millionaires
02/14/01: The benefits of helping the 'rich'
02/09/01: The Danger and Promise of the Bush Schools Plan
02/05/01: Crack and Compassion
01/31/01: Debt is good
01/24/01: A gloomy end for a half-hearted undertaking
01/17/01: The challenge of an ally with its own mind
01/15/01: An unexpected American family portrait
01/10/01: A fitting legacy for America's beloved dictator
01/08/01: The trick of tax 'convenience'
01/03/01: Time to stop blaming Greenspan over taxes
12/11/00: So smart they're dumb
12/06/00: How economic bad news came good for Bush
12/04/00: The Boies factor
11/30/00: "The inevitable demands for recounts erupted like acne…"
11/28/00: Fair play and the rules of the electoral game
11/23/00: The shining prospect beyond a cloudy election
11/21/00: Try the Cleveland model
11/16/00: A surprising winner emerges in the US election
11/09/00: Those powerful expats
What's right for America versus what works
11/02/00: Time to turn off big government's autopilot
10/30/00: Canada beating America in financial sensibility
10/26/00: When progressiveness leads to backwardness
10/24/00: The most accurate poll
10/19/00: The Middle East tells us the hawks were right
10/17/00: The split personalities of America's super rich
10/10/00: 'Equity Rights' or Wake up and Smell the Starbucks
10/04/00: Trapped in the basement of global capitalism
09/21/00: The final act of a grand presidential tragedy
09/21/00: Europeans strike back at the fuel tax monster. Should Americans follow?
09/18/00: First steps to success
09/13/00: America rejects the human rights transplant
09/07/00: Minimum wage, maximum cost
09/05/00: Prudent Al Gore plans some serious spending
08/31/00: A revolution fails to bring power to the people
08/28/00: A reali$tic poll
08/21/00: "I Goofed"
08/16/00: Part of the union, but not part of the party
08/09/00: Silicon Alley Secrets
08/02/00: Radical Republicans warm up for Philadelphia
07/31/00: I'll Cry if I Want To
07/27/00: Cold warrior of the new world
07/25/00: The Estate Tax will drop dead
07/18/00: Shooting down the anti-missile defence myths
07/14/00: A convenient punchbag for America's leaders
07/07/00: How to destroy the pharmaceutical industry
07/05/00: Patriots and bleeding hearts
06/30/00: Candidates beware: New Washington consensus on robust growth stands the old wisdom on its head
06/28/00: White America's flight to educational quality
06/26/00: How Hillary inspired the feminist infobabes
© 2001, Financial Times