Europe’s day of shame

In the fight against terror, writes the Düsseldorfer Handelsblatt, America stands alone. Europe, preoccupied with how it can withdraw from Afghanistan, should be ashamed of its inaction.

Published on 3 May 2011 at 15:16
 | Most front pages of the European press, May 3, 2011 were devoted to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Since 11 September 2001 there have been 16,000 bomb attacks, writes the chief editor of the business journal on its front page. The consequence: 110,000 dead. Most were not soldiers, but mothers, fathers and children. That is reason enough for Gabor Steingart to defend the war on terror with all the force necessary. But America is leading that battle on its own, without the support of the Europeans.

“Can we rejoice in the execution of a man? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer: in this case, yes, because with the violent death of Osama bin Laden comes the hope that this one death may save many others. No one knows what the good God would answer to such an argument. But the political and military perseverance of the United States in the fight against terrorism paid off yesterday. The number one world power, battered economically, has taken matters in hand in an area difficult to get at, the Pakistani borderlands, when all its allies were beating about the bush. Not the tough, scrubby bushes of the highlands of Pakistan, mind you – the European allies of the United States never quite made it there. Their bushes were the rhododendron beds of the Chancellery, Downing Street and the Elysee Palace.”

“This war must be won,” Barack Obama announced before his entry into the White House. At the time, Europe paid euphoric homage to the future president. But instead of listening to this sentence, on the Old Continent they talked instead about how they could get their troops out of Afghanistan.

“The United States fought alone and so they are under no obligation to share with anyone the laurels of tracking down and eliminating bin Laden. Congratulations, America. The DNA of the world’s greatest power is intact. The dollar is faring poorly and the fiscal situation is tense, but the military itself is in great shape. If Germany produces the best cars and China the cheapest Santas in the world, when it comes to security the United States are world export champions. Certainly, security is a product that is horribly expensive and that does not always look pretty, but its machinery is well oiled.”

Security policy has also long been economic policy, writes Steingart. The surveillance of airports and communications networks, whole-body scanners and biometric passports that appear so unreasonable to Europeans fall under that policy. Only the United States, however, has understood that.

“The American victory must make us Europeans rejoice – and hang our heads in shame at the same time. Our continent, whose population and economic strength are comparable to those of the United States, obviously has no desire to defend its values​​, its prosperity, or even itself. Most Europeans – because the Germans are not alone in this case – refuse to understand the nature of this struggle against international terrorism, which has gone on for ten years now. This war is not a war like the ones in our history books. There was no declaration of war, and there will never be an act of capitulation. The enemy wears no helmet, nor uniform, and he would find it hard to drive a tank without causing an accident. In the morning he hangs a belt of explosives around his waist and heads for the market nearest his home. This war cannot be won, and yet it cannot be lost. Our ignorance of this war is the best accomplice of terrorism.”

European reactions

Widespread satisfaction

The death of Osama bin Laden has been greeted in Europe with “widespread satisfaction tempered by caution and warnings about the continuation of his legacy,” writes El País the day after the announcement of the killing of the leader of al-Qaeda in a raid by the U.S. military on his hideout in Pakistan. European leaders are unanimous “that we should not lower our guard against Islamic terrorism,” the Spanish daily notes, and against possible acts of revenge. This “has led some governments to place their embassies and citizens on alert”, starting with London. Paris, while stepping up security, has not yet adopted any special measures. In Brussels,El País observes, “Community institution officials believe that the exit of bin Laden has made the world a safer place,” quoting the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso: the death “will increase our efforts to end terrorism in the world.” Angela Merkel did not mince words: “I am glad he was killed”, said the German leader at a press conference, responding to journalists critical of the ‘state assassination’. The lack of regrets in the declarations by the Commission officials, reported the newspaper, prompted one MEP to invite them to explain their choice of words to the European Parliament.

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