The Telegraph reports on the political ramifications of bin Laden’s offer of truce to Europe. Bin Laden is a gifted strategist, and he knows exactly how to exploit the weaknesses of his enemies. In the 1990’s, he correctly assumed that he could continue a pattern of escalation against the United States, hitting progressively more difficult targets knowing that the US would not have the political will to bring him to justice.
Of course, bin Laden completely miscalculated what would happen when he attacked America directly on September 11, 2001. Instread of forcing the US into a bout of self-doubt, it mobilized America’s latent Jacksonian impulses which united the country and brought al-Qaeda to its knees. At this point, a full two thirds of the leadership of al-Qaeda have been captured or killed. Khalid Sheykh Mohammad, one of the al-Qaeda’s brain trust was nabbed in Pakistan and is now providing the US with invaluable information on al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda seems to have realized that attempts to bring more terrorism to American shores will no longer work. Not only are the civil defense mechanisms of the US infinitely better than they were on September 10, 2001, but the American people are willing to fight back. The heroes of Flight 93 were only a prelude of what would happen if another hijacking attempt were tried. The shoe bomber Richard Reid found out the hard way that passengers on aircraft are no longer going to passively accept their fate in case of an attempt to hijack or destroy an aircraft.
In comparison, Europe is a soft target, as the people of Madrid found a month ago. While European nations have increased their civil defense posture since September 11, they have not done so nearly to the level that the US has. Europe has a large population of unassimilated Muslims, some of whom are sympathetic to groups such as al-Qaeda. Sites like London’s Finsbury Park Mosque have become jihadi recruitment centers where radical clerics are continually looking for disillusioned young men to recruit into terrorist operations.
When the Spanish people took to the streets and blamed their own government rather than al-Qaeda for the Madrid atrocity, it sent bin Laden a message that he could use terrorism to influence European policy. As the Telegraph notes:
Osama bin Laden’s message to the West is simple: concede or die. Yesterday’s unanimous rejection by European governments of bin Laden’s demands was to be expected, but it was never the governments that he was addressing.
“He’s a strategist, following the principle of divide and rule,” said Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside al-Qa’eda. Not only is he trying to drive a wedge between America and Europe, but between the European electorate and their governments.
“He’s likely to attack Europe and he’s likely to tell the European public and European leaders, ‘Look, I gave you a chance to have a truce with me’.”
Unfortunately, bin Laden’s calculus is likely correct. Europe has tried to downplay the issue of terrorism and pretend that it does not effect them:
While President Bush was giving an address earlier this month describing the war on terrorism as “not a figure of speech” but “an inescapable calling of our generation,” the official in charge of overseeing Europe’s counterterrorism efforts was offering a far different assessment.
“Europe is not at war,” Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, told a German newspaper. “We have to energetically oppose terrorism, but we mustn’t change the way we live.”
This is an incredibly naive reaction, and one that only encourages further attacks against Europe. Europe is at war – and by siding with the forces of freedom rather than oppression, Europe has just made itself the front lines of the conflict. Unfortunately, despite furtive efforts at coming up with a counterrorism strategy, has not done so. As one expert put it:
“It is a defining moment for the lack of definition,” said Timothy Garton Ash, an international relations analyst at Oxford University. “We have yet to see a really coherent European response.”
Europe must accept the reality of international terrorism. They must cease trying to push the Israeli/Palestinian issue as the most important issue and accept that groups such as al-Qaeda only use that as a way of deflecting attention from themselves. They must begin to develop a comprehensive and effective counterterrorism infrastructure, and they must improve their information sharing with the United States. Terrorism is not an American or an Israeli issue, it is a world issue, and Paris and Berlin are as much targets as New York or Los Angeles.
Right now Europe’s reactionary anti-Americanism is harming their ability to protect themselves from attacks like those in Madrid. Now that bin Laden has named Europe as the next front in the worldwide war against Islamic terrorism, thousands of European lives could hang in the balance. Either Europe must realize that this is a war that includes them, or they will wake up to find that Madrid was only the prelude.