Special Report

A More Humble Euro-Basher

We’ve been wrong all along. As your average Euro will tell you, no one is a more determined opponent of terror than he is.

By 4.30.04

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Humility being all the rage on the Right these days, allow me to make my own contribution to the gallery of grovelers enlightened by recent turns in the War on Terror. Last month I contended in this space that even as the battle against terrorism roars on, European consensus about taking up the fight remains seriously confused. More heinously, I suggested, Europeans understate the dangers of a toxic ideology whose sweep across the globe will uproot ethnic cultures, destroy freedom and democracy, and shackle indigenous peoples in an oppressively one-sided worldview.

But if an April BBC poll has it right, I was wrong. Europeans have no illusions about this fearsome ideology. Only they don't call it terrorism. They call it globalization. Topping only its chief exponent, the United States, globalization was identified by 52 percent of BBC viewers as by far the biggest problem in the world, more nefarious even than war and terrorism, which lagged in third place. But surely I overstate the case. Surely European leaders have a more realistic view of the terrorist threat, right?

Judge for yourself. Since the March bombings in Madrid, Europe's much-hyped commitment to fighting terrorism has produced little more than sound bites. In late March, for example, 25 leaders of current and soon-to-be EU states concocted something called a "Declaration on Combating Terrorism." We warmongers may frown on this sort of formality as a dangerous distraction, but it's only because we subscribe to the hopelessly atavistic idea that declarations are only worth making when they have something to declare. On these grounds, Europe's falls well short. Oh, it sounds marvelous. Listen to the current European Council president, Bertie Ahern, explain it. "We are at one in the European Union in assessing the gravity of the threat which terrorism poses," he says.

Chock full of back-patting, the declaration is notably short on strategy. What of pooling intelligence information about terrorist activities? The French, after all, have sound information in North Africa, while the British have an ear to other parts of the Middle East. Our dangerous times suggest a comprehensive intelligence-sharing agreement would be useful enterprise. Nothing like that here. Instead, there are "solidarity clauses." These Hallmark-worthy formulations commit EU countries to act jointly in the instance of a terrorist attack. Let it not pass without notice that measures to actually prevent attacks are nowhere mentioned. The reason for this, rarely discussed in polite European company, is rather simple: The complete distrust European countries have of one another so impairs their capacity for cooperation that preventive action may as well be impossible.

WHATEVER THEIR SHORTCOMINGS on the anti-terror front, Europeans have done an admirable job of persuading themselves that, far from the weasels and appeasers we Americans claim them to be, they are actually bold bounty hunters, poised to lead the fight against a dark nemesis. Which is why the EU devises legislation whose only certain effect is convincing its authors that their counterterrorist strategy is par excellence. How else to justify the existence of the European Arrest Warrant? Billed as diplomatic equivalent of a Dirty Harry movie, it is, to hear Europe's policy makers tell it, a radical overhaul of existing extradition laws -- a long arm of the law with the putative power to extend across sovereign borders and collar criminal scum.

Closer inspection reveals that it is, in fact, all thumbs. That has much to do with the litany of offenses that permit EU countries to pursue criminals in a member country, without seeking its approval. Among them are things like corruption, racism, xenophobia, and participation in a criminal organization. All well and good. Until we recall that it was the EU that spent the last month explaining away anti-Jewish violence committed by Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups as the work of right-wing extremists. And the fact that it was the EU that, until very recently, had trouble branding Hamas a terrorist organization. And that it was the EU that for so long reposed so much faith in the egregiously corrupt oil-for-food program.

But if we Americans are less than impressed, the Europeans have managed to sell themselves on their own assertiveness. Spain's new foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, who has done as much for Europe's tough-on-terror image as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has done for Al Qaeda's peacenik sensibilities, recently displayed this very conviction. Explaining the sudden pullout of Spain's troops from Iraq, despite election-time assurances that Spain would await a UN resolution, Moratinos insisted that "that does not mean that Spain is giving up its commitment to stability and democratization of Iraq."

With counter-terror tactics like that, no wonder jihadis are undaunted. Indeed, according to the New York Times, Europe's terrorists are multiplying. In working-class neighborhoods across Europe, voices preaching holy war are growing shriller, the number of recruits swelling, and the terror threat mounting by the day. Correspondence among plotters of attacks, what intelligence folks call "chatter," has spiked. Radical clerics contemptuous of Europe's flaccid deportation laws, like London's al Qaeda-aligned Abu Hamza, brazenly preach jihad, rallying a new generation of killers while their civil liberties guardians fend off authorities.

Such misguided activism would be merely regrettable if it weren't also dangerous. Not content to stonewall European immigration agents, the continent's civil liberties brigades are now taking on the United States. The EU threatened last week to scrap the EU Commission's agreement with American intelligence services to share intelligence about air travelers' personal details. We want up to 34 details; the EU will allow only 19. It may sound like a minor quibble, but the numbers are largely symbolic. If it means the difference between capturing a terror suspect, then the more information we have the better. Europeans are of course free to believe, against all logic, that such concessions are spooking terrorists. But when their self-delusion puts the United States at risk, it's time to say enough is enough.

There I go laying into Europe again. So in the interest of humility, let me reiterate that I am wrong to argue that Europeans' priorities are mixed up. They are not. If their battle against U.S. intelligence services is any indication, their priorities are precisely backward.

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About the Author

Jacob Laksin is a writer in New York City.