Cambridge, England THE TERRORISTS wanted a war with America and they will get one, though they erred if they thought it would be the kind of pin-prick, slap-on-the-wrist war the United States has waged of late. Rather it will be the sustained, root-and-branch kind of war the United States tends to win. It may even be a world war, with the United States once more leading a global alliance of democracies and civilized societies. The early responses from governments around the world are encouraging. Rapid pledges of support, buttressed by an outpouring of public sentiment, mean that America will not have to fight alone. But there is reason to worry about the mettle of our allies, and a closer look at our staunchest, the United Kingdom, illustrates the point. On the positive side, no leader was quicker than Prime Minister Tony Blair to understand the global significance of September 11. Even before anyone knew whether the attack was over, Blair publicly jumped into the American foxhole with some of the most stirring rhetoric this war has yet seen: "This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism but between the free and democratic world and terrorism. We, therefore, here in Britain, stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy and we like them will not rest until this evil is driven from our world." Blair’s early pledge has been backed up by similar statements by other allies (including the French) and by concrete measures, not the least of which is NATO’s pledge of Article 5 support: The attack on the United States is legally viewed by our European allies as an attack on all of NATO. And, of course, Blair and others are reflecting the sentiment of their general populations, which have been stirred to show unprecedented demonstrations of support for Americans. Even the queen has jumped on the bandwagon: Two days after the attack and for the first time ever, her band played the "Star Spangled Banner" at the ceremonial Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. But the initial response in the British media also points to a potential Achilles’ heel in the emerging global alliance against terrorism: the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of much of Britain (and Europe’s) intellectual and media elite. The terrible news reached London in mid-afternoon. Understandably, an initial detached horror soon gave way to concern that targets in London might also be attacked. As this concern abated, the pundit class took up the task of interpreting the day’s events and explaining the "deeper meanings," which they have been doing at great volume ever since, and in too many cases, exposing a visceral and largely uninformed dislike of the United States and especially the current American president. To be sure, anti-Americanism appeared only in some of the commentary, and even then it was qualitatively different from the unalloyed hatred that motivated the terrorists themselves. But it is troubling all the same, and shows up in three errors common to much of the British "expert" commentary on the events. The first error is to declare that this attack proves the bankruptcy of Bush’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. This shows up most often in commentary asking, "Do Americans understand why they are hated?" One particularly odious piece published days after the attack clucked that Americans still "simply don’t get it." The shocking underlying assumption seems to be that the hatred of the terrorists tells us more about the object of their hatred than about the moral condition of the terrorists and those who sympathize with them. As if the fundamental question had been what the Jews did to provoke Hitler. Another commentator drew sharp contrasts between the "vigorous engagement" of the Clinton administration and the "stunning" reversal and "isolationism" of the Bush administration and as much as said that it was the latter that caused the terrorist attack. Of course, if this terrorist attack is proven linked to the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, then, if anything, the deep cause of the attack is precisely the "vigorous engagement" the commentator celebrated. As is now clear to most observers—including Clinton administration officials in candid, offthe-record moments—the peace process broke down because the Clinton administration tried to impose a negotiated settlement on an Arafat unwilling to accept peace. The commentators conveniently forget that the peace process shattered irretrievably long before Bush became president. None of the Bush critics has produced a single workable concrete proposal showing how more vigorous outside involvement (more vigorous than Clinton’s?) will help. The second error is to declare that this attack shows the bankruptcy of Bush’s defense policy, especially its focus on national missile defense. Countless commentators and reporters observed (correctly) that no ballistic missile defense could have stopped the attack and then went on to conclude (erroneously) that this proves the futility of Bush’s national security strategy. On the contrary, the attack confirms the basic thrust of the Bush approach, which holds that threats to American soil—even improbable threats—must be countered and protected against if possible. European elites profess that they cannot understand why an American president would take homeland defense so seriously that he would invest billions of dollars in constructing a defense shield against very unlikely attacks. The rationale for such defensive measures should now be plain. As horrible as these terrorist attacks were, they would be immeasurably worse if they involved weapons of mass destruction delivered by ballistic missiles. For this reason, it would be irresponsible in the extreme if an American president abandoned efforts to protect against improbable but catastrophic threats. European elites seem to want Americans simply to "accept" a vulnerability. The ghost towers of the World Trade Center show that such vulnerability is unacceptable. To be sure, there are legitimate questions to be raised about feasibility and trade-offs, but the curious European idea that the United States need not take homeland defense seriously has been forever discredited—except, apparently, in the minds of the European elite. The third error, growing in prominence as the global alliance gains momentum, is to assume that the United States will be irresponsible save for any restraint imposed by the (presumably more) sophisticated European allies. We cannot trust the Texas cowboy to drive the convoy, these commentators argue; we must start tapping the brakes now. The sentiment drips from contemptuous rhetoric about America as a "vengeful, angry Goliath" who, unless restrained by wiser European heads, will become a "pitiful, helpless, giant." It screams from headlines, "Mister Blair Must Be Prepared to Stand Up to President Bush." It oozes from an editorial cartoon that even Saddam Hussein would reject as too crass: President Bush with donkey ears in a Darth Vader costume declaring war on "abroad." Prominent air time is given to painful interviews with American pundits who, obviously out of their depth, raise the old specter of the Florida voting mess and Bush’s supposed lack of mandate. Of course, there are legitimate and thorny questions about how best to wage the war. Mindless and indiscriminate vengeance will only serve the aims of the terrorists. But there is every indication President Bush understands what this war will take much better than do the "sophisticated pragmatists" who are glancing nervously in his direction. All these errors and more spring from the same source, the tired anti-Americanism that has strained U.S. relations with its allies for so long. The craven attack converted many previous adherents— one prominent French expert famously observed, "We are all New Yorkers now"—but too many still cling to the old prejudices. In waging a war against terrorism, the Bush administration will be tested by friends as well as by foes. One suspects that Europe’s political leaders understand this as well. The intended audience of Blair’s ringing comments, or of NATO secretary general George Robertson’s repeated invocation of "solidarity," is not just the terrorists or the besieged Americans—it is the wobbly European chattering class.
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