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Jewish World Review March 8, 2002 / 24 Adar, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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The safest place in the world

For now | With the twin revelations that a "backup" government is now in place, and that nuclear terror may have been aimed at New York City last October, it is now clear to anyone upright and breathing that the threat of spectacular, deadly violence at home is still with us. Osama bin Laden has also promised attacks on America's allies but they, on the other hand, should lose little sleep over the possibility. A threat aimed at America's supporters may serve a rhetorical purpose for bin Laden-chalk it up to some attempt at the formal-sounding language of a "leader"-but compared to the rest of his threats, this one is rather empty.

There is one place in the world bin Laden will not seriously attack right now: Europe.

He will leave Europe alone because, over time, a lack of violence there will lull those nations into a false sense of security, and therefore weaken Europe's support for the United States' military effort. Bin Laden could not win a war fought full-bore by America and her allies. Great Britain's Tony Blair is working almost alone these days, and politically he won't be able to keep it up forever. Add to that what bin Laden believes is true (and may actually be true over a very long haul) about the propensity of the American people to reject casualties, and he could actually win this war by fundamentally changing the way Americans go about their days in the 21st Century. He could reduce life in American cities to the sort of jump-at-every-car-backfiring mindset the Israelis know. Bin Laden would call that victory-and more than a few Americans wouldn't call that defeat.

A report from even the left-leaning Center for Defense Information (CDI) notes that Europe is indeed "less of a target." European nations often use trade to build economic ties with threatening states; this tends to be their primary defense against them (and is the secondary approach that the U.S. takes toward China). More important to the safety of Europe is the fact that, as CDI notes, some European capitals are employed as safe havens for the administration of some terror operations, and are therefore more valuable as ongoing, under-the-radar fundraising and training centers than as one-time targets for terrorism.

While European support for an American response was strong in the days just after September 11, grumbling began with the first military actions only one month later, and reached a crescendo in early January, with a landslide of criticism for conditions at Camp X-Ray-criticism most notable for the lack of evidence behind it.

Bin Laden understands that protests from around the world against the U.S. are less about specifics and more an expression of anti-Americanism hung on what public relations folks call a "newspeg"-an opportunity to get in the news piggybacked on a related story. Europe's general disinterest in the dangerous work of fighting terrorism is also expressed in the fact that nearly all the heavy lifting militarily is being done by the U.S. As time goes on, the proportion of U.S. effort to European effort will only increase. And the longer there are no terror attacks on Europe, the weaker Europe's interest in this battle will grow.

Of course, an event there the magnitude of the World Trade Center attack would change things overnight, which is precisely why such a thing will not happen anytime soon. Why would bin Laden roust allies who are only lukewarm in the first place?

Of course, they won't be safe forever over across the Atlantic. Not to lend bin Laden credibility as a political philosopher, but his sworn enemy is Western Civilization and American life in general; in particular, he wants to upend the notions of democratic order that identify his violent brand of theocracy as the soul-sucking despotism it is. Europe is part of his goal, but there's no gain for him to broaden a fight that is already too big and moving too fast for his operation to keep up. But give it time.

Europeans should remember the lesson that the Saudis are learning right now. For years, Saudi Arabia "purchased peace" with Al Qaeda-in the form of paying protection money. One of bin Laden's long-term goals has always been to depose the Saudi government; today he is perhaps closer than ever to that. If and when he succeeds in this, the Saudis will realize that their bargain to buy safety was only short-term and, therefore, deadly.

Europe, take note.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long