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What a Difference 10 Years Can Make

French foreign policy has not changed that much in the last decade, but some prominent US opinions about Paris have.

I am surprised to read the headline "Can the E.U. become the world's policeman?" in the Washington Post. Anne Applebaum's latest op-ed about French policy in Mali concludes that Americans should "stop giggling about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and start offering logistical and moral support. Europe may not be the best superpower. But it's the only one we've got."

Wow. Thanks. But that's too much praise. Of course, the EU will not, cannot and does not even want to become the world's policeman or a superpower in the foreseeble future.

Still it's nice to read this as we approach the 10th anniversary of the transatlantic quarrels over the Iraq war. On January 24, 2003 the NY Post published the “Axis of Weasel” cover story about France and Germany and a play on George W. Bush’s denunciation of the “axis of evil”. And then there were the Subway ads, which SuperFrenchie campaigned against.

Anne Applebaum assumes that Europe has changed so much since the Libya operation and makes a big deal out of the French intervention in Mali and its context. I think she exaggerates, but she also makes important observations, which will change American perceptions of France:

In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organization with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of international terrorist organization used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon. Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention at all. Some U.S. transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service - "a demand without precedent" - before wearily agreeing to help.

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"The Silent Partner" Who Does not Care

"An American drone killed eight German citizens in Pakistan [last] week. Germany's non-reaction says volumes about its role in the war on terror," writes Cameron Abadi in Foreign Policy and concludes "Judging from their eerie silence this week, Germans generally seem willing to let America handle the world's dirty work abroad." It's a great article and I recommend fully reading it and some of his links.

I tend to agree with him, but I also have the impression that the German public does not worry about terrorist attacks in general. They do not consider the US as acting on Germany's behalf and doing "the world's dirty work abroad."

Even the NATO mission in Afghanistan is not given credit for uncovering and disrupting the plot to attack European targets. I have not heard or read a statement in Germany along the lines of Con Coughlin's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: The Afghanistan War's Dividends in Europe (Free access, if you use Google search): 

"The main reason we can identify these plots and implement measures against them is because of the extensive military and intelligence-gathering infrastructure we have invested in the region," a senior NATO officer in Kabul told me following reports of the latest al Qaeda scheme. "But it is doubtful we would have the same ability to track the plots and respond to them if we suddenly reduced our presence in Afghanistan."

German parliamentarians find it increasingly difficult to tell their voters why they always vote for extensions of the Bundeswehr mandate for Afghanistan, but they don't use the disrupted terror plot aimed at European cities (Paris, Berlin) as a chance to convince voters that our participation in the Afghanistan mission has made us safer. Or what am I missing here?

ENDNOTES: Reuters: "Italy could begin pulling out troops from Afghanistan next summer, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, as the nation mourned four soldiers killed in an insurgent ambush at the weekend.

Germany was elected to the UN Security Council for the next two years. (Canada, I am so sorry!) So, Germany might be less quiet in the years to come. Remember the "fun" we had in the run up to the Iraq war? Any chance for a deja-vu regarding Iran in 2011 or 2012?

"Hamburg cell at heart of terrorist plot against Europe"

The US, the UK, France and now Japan issued warnings of a Mumbai-styled terrorist plot against European cities. Every government warns its citizens of an increased chance of attacks. Everybody? No, a small country at the Baltic Sea appears immune to fear mongering and minds its own business. (Hm, I tried to paraphrase the introduction of the Asterix comics, but probably failed.)


A group of jihadists from the German city of Hamburg are alleged to be at the heart of the recent al Qaeda plot to launch co-ordinated terrorist attacks against European cities, according to European intelligence officials. The plan prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a Europe-wide security advisory for Americans traveling in Europe. Japan issued a similar alert Monday, citing the warnings issued by the United States and by Britain, which raised the level highest for France and Germany.

German authorities seem to be much less concerned than Washington, London and Paris. I wonder why. Any theories? Are Germans ignorant ("nobody will attack our peaceloving country" because the Age of Aquarius has started) or are we the only non-fear mongers, who are skeptical of "the Al-Qaeda brew"? German analysts have not yet interrogated Sidiqi. Perhaps that explains the difference? Spiegel points out:

Still, it remains unclear whether the reports can be considered reliable or whether Sidiqi's claims are the typical al-Qaida brew, consisting of one-third truth, one-third lies and one-third omission. Although the CIA is taking Sidiqi seriously, German authorities are more reserved in their analysis.

Terrorism: Should Europe and the US Go to Red Alert?

Counterterrorism officials in France, Germany, Britain, and the United States have given warnings this week about the rising threat of attacks by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, especially in Europe. Are our politicians listening? Are you concerned?

"Al Qaeda and its allies are taking aim at Europe, according to US and Western intelligence officials, who say there are indications a terrorist plot is in the offing" writes the Washington Times. (HT: ACUS)

While FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that Al Qaeda continues to be "committed to high-profile attacks directed at the West," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stressed the increasing threat of smaller-scale attacks, which require less planning and fewer pre-operational steps and therefore are more difficult to detect before they occur.

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Preventing History from Repeating Itself

Spiegel International:

German police on Monday closed a mosque that had been a meeting place for the 9/11 terror cell. They believe the mosque continued to promote jihad and may have been a staging site for Islamist extremists living in Germany who have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in militant camps.

9/11 is not in the German mindset (anymore)

Werner Schultz is running for the EU parliament and told the delegates of the Green Party congress last weekend: "Today the people are more afraid of their investment adviser than of Al Qaeda." A remarkable quote that was cited in many Germany newspapers.

There are many indications that a growing number of citizens in Europe (and also in the United States) are less concerned about international terrorism than a few years ago. 9/11 is over. It is back to normal. This is not just due to the financial crisis, but also because Al Qaeda and co have not had a major attack in recent years. Complacency would be a dangerous, and Obama knows it since he said in his inauguration speech: "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."

Germans, however, never felt at war with this terrorism network. They don't worry much about the recent terror threats due to Germany's involvement in Afghanistan. And German politicians don't dare to describe the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan as war.

German Newspaper: Osama Bin Laden Feels Like a Winner

Ulrich Ladurner writes in the respected German weekly Die Zeit:

Since the United States is experiencing a crisis of monumental proportions, Osama must genuinely feel that his prophecy has become a reality. More than a decade ago, he set out to vanquish America and its villainous puppets in the Arabian Gulf - nothing more, nothing less. Back then this must have appeared like folly, because the U.S. was at the zenith of its power and Osama and his people were considered nothing more than a fanatical gang of murderers.

Today we are witnessing the rapid decline of the United States, a trend which some consider to be irreversible. Osama has victory in his sights. Whether that's true or not shouldn't be debated here. This is about recognizing that this is the view of Osama bin Laden. This is about catching a glimpse of the world of ideas espoused by these fanatics.

Read the article in the German original or the English translation.

These days, Die Zeit is even more pessimistic about the power of the United States than usually. Jan Ross writes about the Heroes of the Retreat:

How can the land of victories and optimism come to terms with a life after the imperial moment? Learning to decline - is it doable? Can a world power that no longer presumes to dominate the world find a new role without depression or biting fear? Is there life after the imperial moment? That is the question that the United States faces, and that will define the term of the next American President.

World War IV: Europe on the Front Line

While Swiss media are reporting Al Qaeda bomb threats during the upcoming EU- soccer championship (taking place in Switzerland and Austria), Eric Grover warns from an Islamic "World War IV" against the West on blogactiv. This entry was cross-posted from blogactiv with permission and without further editing. It does not represent the Atlantic Review's opinion on the matter:

"A resurgent fundamentalist Islam is engaged in a global war against the West and the rest of the infidel world. In World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism former Commentary editor in chief Norman Podhoretz calls it WW4.

Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain believes "the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists." Mitt Romney said the “philosophy of radical jihadism says, ‘We want to kill.’” In stark contrast, Democrats, George Bush and many European leaders talk about combating terrorism – a means, disembodied from any animating ideology or purpose. It is as if in WW2 Roosevelt and Churchill had called for waging war against Panzer tanks. UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in a positively Orwellian construction now refers to Islamic terrorism as “anti-Islamic activity.”

21st century Europeans and Americans no longer understand men motivated by and willing, indeed eager, to kill and die for their faith.

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