The Magazine

America Knows Terrorism

Unlike the simplistic Europeans.

Mar 18, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 26 • By TOD LINDBERG
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So it is rather a silly exercise to pin a supposed European sophistication on greater experience. On the other hand, it is certainly fair to characterize the European response to terrorism, as different from the American response since September 11. Europeans treated terrorism largely as a law enforcement matter and were not especially interested in probing too deeply at terrorists' international connections with a view to acting against states or international organizations that were supporting them.

In short, the non-simplistic European attitude, if that's the right way to characterize it, rather closely resembles the pre-September 11 response of the United States to terrorism. We have come to our simplisticism only recently, and only as a result of the manifest failure of "sophistication" to derail what can now clearly be seen as a longstanding and systematic effort by our enemies to target us and kill our people.

Is Paris burning? Well, no, it isn't. And that is an excellent backdrop for sophistication, if not indeed its prerequisite. The United States bears the burden not only of its own security but the security of many others, which in turn allows the others, if they wish, to pursue better relations with those who wish us ill. In this fashion, they are doubly safe, non?

It also strikes me as entirely plausible that the moral clarity Tony Blair displayed in response to September 11 may have had something to do with those 3,600 dead in the Troubles--a very particular and long-lasting problem the UK had to figure out for itself. It's also why, at the end of the day if not before, the memory of Algeria and worse will lead France to forswear sophistication and lend a hand.

Contributing editor Tod Lindberg is a Hoover Institution fellow and editor of Policy Review.