Can America Lead after Afghanistan?

Colin Powell was the Europeans’ favorite from the beginning. Among the Bush foreign-policy team he was the multilateral one, consensual and cautious, and from Bosnia to the first Gulf War, admirably in their view, always squeamish about the use of force. That the U.S. did not immediately lash out after the attacks of September 11 is, in the European view, largely thanks to the secretary of state’s restraint. “The multilateralists [in Washington] have prevailed,” proclaimed one German official recently. And now, suddenly and privately, some Europeans are beginning to worry: “What happens if we get what we wished for?”

Just as the events of September 11 transformed the national-security debate in the United States, they also have profoundly affected European attitudes toward America. No, anti-Americanism has not disappeared. A prominent German television anchor has alleged that George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden share “the same patterns of thought.” A leading fashion designer blames America for the fact that Muslim men of the Arab world treat Muslim women so poorly. (So offensive have our policies been to their sense of male dignity apparently, that we’ve left them no other choice but to vent by brutalizing the other sex.) Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen thinks the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center should be celebrated as a work of art.

Anti-Americanism will not disappear. But now hatred of America is becoming isolated, marginalized, and discredited across Europe perhaps like never before.

The reasons are twofold. First, there has been the outpouring of solidarity across Europe. The Queen Mother has the yanks’ national anthem played; the French fly American flags; tens of thousands of Germans flock to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, as politicians declare, “Ich bin ein Amerikaner.” An American navy ship meets a German warship at sea and discovers: the Germans are flying the American flag, standing at attention in dress-blue uniforms, while shipmates unfurl a large hand painted banner, which reads “We stand by you.” Europeans are caught up in a remarkable wave of pro-American sentiment.

Second, and more important, Europeans are back to an idea that had begun to dissipate the moment the Berlin Wall fell 12 years ago: namely that their security link to America is not merely desirable, but indispensable. Today, Europeans understand (again) that they have nothing to gain from an America that is weak. On the contrary. If the United States proves unable to defend itself against the terrorism threat, how safe are the Eiffel Tower, the Reichstag in Berlin, or London’s theater or financial districts?

Two months ago, the European Union was a bastion of Euro-nationalism. Today foreign-policy spokesman Javier Solana says the EU wants “the U.S. to say what would be useful [and] we will respond.” When the little Belgians tried recently to create some distance between Europe and America--Belgium currently holds the rotating EU presidency--Brussels was simply squished by the others. Imagine, Germany’s Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, supports the Bush administration, attacks those in his party who support a bombing pause, and wants German troops to stand by the Americans in Afghanistan.

They may appear in sync with Colin Powell’s State Department. But the allies wonder, After Afghanistan what’s next? They know that Saddam Hussein, for example, was likely involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center, when six were killed and more than 1,000 injured. Ramzi Yousef, who now serves two life sentences in Colorado for the 1993 attack, is believed to be an Iraqi agent. Abdul Rahman Yasin, another central figure, an indicted fugitive, finds safe haven in Iraq today. One of the perpetrators in last month’s attacks had met with Iraqi agents on more than one occasion. Whether conclusive evidence of Saddam’s culpability emerges, Europeans also know that the Iraqi dictator is a threat; that he kicked U.N. arms inspectors out of Iraq three years ago and continues to develops weapons of mass destruction; and that he has motive to harm the U.S. and its allies.

Yes, of course, some will squirm, they will complain, they will feel Weltschmerz with furrowed brow. But if America makes the case, they will come along, just as in the Cold War, because they understand that it is in their interest to do so. The Arabs will join up, as they did in the first Gulf War. When the Europeans say yes, Russia will not wish to be isolated. And that’s a coalition. Which means when Afghanistan is finished, is America ready to lead? Or will misguided ideas of “leadership by consensus” squander the biggest foreign-policy opportunity the U.S. has had in a decade?

Jeffrey Gedmin is a resident scholar at AEI.

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