by Victor Davis Hanson
Real Clear Politics
Over the last four years Americans have played a sort of parlor game wondering when — or if — the Europeans might awake to the danger of Islamic fascism and choose a more muscular role in the war on terrorism.
But after the acrimony over the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, pessimists scoffed that the Atlantic alliance was essentially over. Only the postmortem was in dispute: did the bad chemistry between the Texan George Bush and the Green European leadership who came of age in the street theater of 1968 explain the falling out?
Or was the return of the old anti-Americanism natural after the end of the Cold War — once American forces were no longer needed for the security of Europe?
Or again, was Europe’s third way a realistic consideration of its own unassimilated and growing Muslim population, at a time of creeping pacifism, and radically scaled down defense budgets after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Yet suddenly in 2006, the Europeans seem to have collectively resuscitated. The Madrid bombings, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the London subway attacks, and the French rioting in October and November seem to have prompted at least some Europeans at last to question their once hallowed sense of multiculturalism in which Muslim minorities were not asked to assimilate at home and Islamic terrorists abroad were seen as mere militants or extremists rather than enemies bent on destroying the West.
On January 19, Jacques Chirac warned that his military would use its nuclear forces to target states that sponsored terrorism against France — El Cid braggadocio that made George Bush’s past Wild West lingo like ‘smoke ‘em out’ and ‘dead or alive’ seem Pollyannaish by comparison. Not long after, it was disclosed that the French and the Americans have coordinated their efforts to keep Syria out of Lebanon and to isolate Bashar Assad’s shaky Syrian regime. And in a recent news conference Donald Rumsfeld and the new German defense minister Franz Josef Jung sounded as if they were once more the old allies of the past, fighting shoulder to shoulder against terrorists who would like to do to Berlin what they did to New York.
The once plodding and ineffectual British-French-German diplomatic effort to circumvent Iran’s nuclear program finally reached its predictable dead-end. But instead of the usual backtracking appeasement dressed up in diplomatic doublespeak about “multilateralism” and “dialogue,” the Europeans pointedly warned the Iranians that further enrichment was unacceptable and that the use of force to prevent acquisition of an Iranian bomb could not be ruled out. A Europe that once dismissed as retrograde America’s anti-ballistic missile system may well soon be in range of Iran’s envisioned nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
The Dutch suddenly agreed to deploy up to 1,400 troops in the more dangerous regions of southern Afghanistan. That show of fortitude prompted NATO to boast that its European and American forces may soon go on the offensive against many of the most recalcitrant Taliban strongholds.
When a Danish paper was threatened for printing cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, neither the government of Demark nor the usually politically-correct European Union tried to impose censorship in the face of Arab boycotts, rioting, and not-so-veiled threats to make life difficult for Scandinavians. Instead, newspapers all over Europe reprinted the cartoons, ignored Arab threats — only to witness the United States State Department of all governments offer limp-wristed palliatives about cultural sensitivity rather than principled support of the surprising European defense of free expression and speech.
Have the Europeans flipped out?
Hardly. Recent polls show a majority of Europeans are becoming increasingly tired of current liberal immigration policies and foreign aid programs that have given billions of dollars to the Palestine Authority that they now learn in the aftermath of Yasser Arafat’s death resulted in both rampant corruption and the Hamas backlash. It is one thing to subsidize a double-talking Arafat, quite another to keep giving money to terrorists who openly promise to finish the European holocaust.
More importantly, despite distancing themselves from the United States, and spreading cash liberally around, the Europeans are beginning to fathom that the radical Islamists still hate them even more than they do the Americans — as if the fundamentalists add disdain for perceived European weakness in addition to the usual generic hatred of all things Western.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is out — and, in humiliating fashion for a supposedly principled socialist, now grubbing for petrodollars for the Russian state-run conglomerate Gazprom. Despite his eleventh hour saber rattling, Jacques Chirac is emasculated. Conservatives are now firmly in power in Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United States. Immigration legislation under consideration from Scandinavia to France makes the American Patriot Act seem tame. Italian wiretaps led to arrests of Muslim terrorists who were plotting another 9/11 at the very time Democratic Senators in confirmation hearings tore into Justice Alito for supposedly condoning police-state tactics.
Liberals here at home attribute the change of European hearts and minds to the abandonment of our own neocon unilateralism, and Mr. Bush’s long overdue return to multilateral bridge building. But that is a superficial exegesis, given that America still supplies the bulk of the coalition troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq — and receives daily European goading about electronic surveillance abroad and detention centers in Eastern Europe.
Two other developments better explain the warming in Atlantic relations and the Europeans’ sudden muscularity. First, the Bush administration wisely adopted a Zen-like strategy of keeping low and letting the ankle-biting Europeans take the lead in dealing with radical Islamists like the Iranian theocracy and Hamas. As we stayed silent and played the sullen bad cop, the good guys were sorely disappointed at learning that, yes, the Iranians want both the bomb and Israel destroyed, and that, yes, Hamas, is still intent on annihilating the Jewish state and expecting subsidies to realize that aim. Second guessing and cheap anti-Americanism are easy without responsibility, but the Europeans found very quickly that for all their subtlety and exalted rhetoric they did no better than George Bush in dealing with these anti-Western fanatics.
Second, the two most difficult hurdles are now past — the removal of the odious Taliban and Saddam Hussein. And thus the overblown caricature of Americans as war-mongering bombers has run out of gas. Europeans, of course, always wished both autocracies gone, but quickly learned they could admit that desire only in the first case.
But now that the Americans are doing the fighting and dying, the Europeans can still be against the war, but “for the peace” with the utopian rationale that “whether the war was right or wrong, Iraq must not become a failed state.” Even the most diehard leftists are beginning to see that the fascists who once threatened Salman Rushdie and now bully the Danish cartoonists are the same as those who blow up female school teachers and reformers in Baghdad.
So is Europe now finally at the front or will they retreat Madrid-like in the face of the inevitable second round of terrorist bombings and threats to come?
Americans are not confident, but we should remember at least one simple fact: Europe is the embryo of the entire Western military tradition. The new European Union encompasses a population greater than the United States and spans a continent larger than our own territory. It has a greater gross domestic product than that of America and could, in theory, field military forces as disciplined and as well equipped as our own.
It is not the capability but the will power of the Europeans that has been missing in this war so far. But while pundits argue over whether the European demographic crisis, lack of faith, stalled economy, or multiculturalism are at the root of the continent’s impotence, we should never forget that if aroused and pushed, a rearmed and powerful Europe could still be at the side of the United States in joint efforts against the jihadists. And should we ever see a true alliance of such Western powers, the war against the fascists of the Middle East would be simply over in short order.
©2006 Victor Davis Hanson