Paris, April 23, 2009 – When President Barack Obama was in
Strasbourg for the NATO ‘summit’ at the beginning of April, he made a
plea for more European soldiers for Afghanistan.
He hasn’t had much of a reply – 65 men with two F-16s promised by
Belgium; and from France, 12 trainers and a small troop contingent (probably from the
gendarmerie) for the elections in Afghanistan next month, with a
larger French contribution to the new combined European Gendarmerie
Force which has already dispatched 300 to 400 men and women, all to
improve Afghanistan’s own national police, so far without conspicuous
This suggests that the Europeans think the Afghan adventure a
waste, or of little importance to Europe, if not a danger, but that
the Americans have to humored. Certainly few can have taken it
seriously when Obama told his NATO audience that Europe is more
menaced than ever by al Qaeda. The reason? Geography.
Europe is closer to Afghanistan than is the United States,
hence easier for the Al Qaeda terrorists and the waves of bearded
Afghan militants to reach.
But why? That is always the question. Why should Afghan
Muslim fundamentalists want to attack Europeans? The British feel
threatened, but it nearly always turns out that the people arrested
for plotting against Britain are disgruntled British citizens of
Pakistani descent, born in London or Manchester immigrant housing
estates, usually unemployed and embittered.
Last Wednesday the British counterterrorism authorities set free
the last two of 12 Pakistani men who two weeks ago Prime Minister
Gordon Brown had said were part of “a very big terrorist plot,” and
which the police said would involve mass casualties. The men were
seized in an operation involving hundreds of police raiding ten
locations including a university library. (The men were all in
Britain on student visas.) However there turned out to be something
wrong here, since the police failed to find any evidence of a mass
attack, and the men were released and put on planes for home.
At least the alleged terrorists who went on trial last week in
Duseldorf are charged with being in possession of 12 drums of
hydrogen peroxide and military detonators (and since they have been
imprisoned all have worn beards, which seems pretty conclusive!).
One of them is a Turkish citizen, two are Germans converted to Islam,
and the fourth is a German with Turkish parents. Al Qaeda is not
known to have a Turko-German wing.
The Madrid bombings of 2004 which killed nearly 200 were linked to
Algerians. The London Underground bombings remain unsolved. The
Paris bombings in the 1980s were committed by Algerians in revenge
for France’s relations with an anti-Islamist Algerian government.
In short, Europe certainly is not immune to terrorist attacks, what
with these bombings, the Red Brigades in Germany and Italy, the
assassinations of foreign military attaches in Greece, carried out in
revenge for the western-supported “Colonels’ dictatorship” three
decades ago: but these all seem to be native growths, none with
proven connection to al Qaeda. They all have to do with European or
American official relationships with the Saudi Arabian, Pakistani,
Algerian, and Greek governments, or with European support for U.S.
If Barack Obama had wanted to give the NATO allies
prudent advice about how to avoid terrorist attacks, he should have
told them to have nothing to do with the American War on Terror, even
if it is now under Obama management and renamed an Overseas
The Europeans don’t have a dog in the fight against the Taliban,
who never did anything to them (at least since the last Afghan War in
the 19th century), and who show strong signs of winning control of
Northern Pakistan, Kabul and the strategically important parts of
Afghanistan. Bad enough that the United States is humiliated once
again in a useless war, like Vietnam and Iraq, contributing to the
existing hatred of people in non-western world for Washington.
Europe should leave bad enough alone in this situation, and hope
that President Obama is too intelligent not to work his way out of
this war. But most of the bureaucratic forces, and those of
institutionalized foreign policy opinion in Washington, seems
committed to making Overseas Contingency Operations a permanent
feature of American national life. The allies are justified in taking
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