Why we have allies

September 08, 2002

THE SPECTACULAR engagements in the war against terrorism have taken place in the dust-brown regions of central and southern Asia, where bombings and assassinations and betrayals and the hunt for Osama bin Laden still continue.

Asia is crucial, but the action there tends to mask a fundamental truth about this struggle: The staging ground for terror isn't in Asia at all, but in Europe.

In recent weeks, the Dutch rounded up men suspected of helping to finance terrorist groups. The Swedes arrested a man with a gun trying to get on a plane; his motives are unclear. The Germans revealed Friday that they had arrested a Turk who they believe planned to blow up U.S. military installations in Germany on Sept. 11.

Indeed, not only did Richard Reid, the accused would-be shoe-bomber, come from England, but much of the planning and organization for the Sept. 11 attacks was conducted in Europe, particularly in Germany and Spain. The so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, is French; the governments of both Germany and France have evidence that could be useful against him.

For a while, people in the Bush administration liked to talk about the international, global war against terrorism. More recently, they've been acting as though it is actually America's war against terrorism.

Let's be clear about this. Terrorism is a concern from one end of the world to the other, but it is neither uniform nor monolithic. As far as the United States is concerned, the key link is Europe. Threats to America come from Europe -- that is to say, from extremists who have chosen European cities as bases for their operations.

Americans and Europeans, in other words, are dealing with the same foes. Think of it as the Western Front in the worldwide struggle.

There is only one way the Western democracies can prevail on that front -- by cooperating as true allies. A falling-out among nations, in the face of the threat of further terrorism, would mean defeat and disaster.

And this is where Iraq comes in.

For most of this year, President Bush and his more hawkish advisers gave the impression that they were contemptuous at best of European (and domestic) doubts about the advisability of an attack on Baghdad. It finally reached the point where Brent Scowcroft, who had served under the first President Bush, wrote a warning in The Wall Street Journal that the White House was at risk of losing all it had accomplished since Sept. 11 if it pursued a course that would inevitably shatter the Western alliance.

Fortunately, Mr. Bush last week began at least to act as though he had gotten the message. He acknowledged that there is still plenty of political work to be done before moving against Iraq. He promised to get started on it, a promise he would be well-advised to keep. He may never be able to convince the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, that "regime change" in Iraq is worth a war -- but he needs to engage Mr. Schroeder, and all the other doubters, on that question.

Against al-Qaida and its various brethren, we're all in this together, on both sides of the Atlantic. To bull ahead alone against Iraq courts catastrophe.

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