Saturday, April 29, 2006

Europe's Transatlantic Dilemma

European Parliament investigators have concluded that the Central Intelligence Agency has flown over 1,000 undeclared flights over Europe since 2001. (See, for example, the New York Times.) In some cases these flights carried alleged terrorists, some kidnapped in Europe, to countries that are known to use torture. Especially controversial is the conclusion that some European countries were aware of the over-flights, others of the kidnappings. This story highlights a continuing problem for Europe as it grapples with the United States’ often-excessive response to the problem of terrorism. European public opinion is often quite critical of what is sees as a U.S. foreign policy thrashing dangerously about in an attempt to destroy all perceived terrorists. (This includes the war in Iraq, which the administration has convinced many Americans, and apparently themselves, is an important part of the “war on terror,” and Iran, which the State Department calls the largest state sponsor of terrorism.) Many European governments face an almost insoluble dilemma, compelled to acknowledge critical constituents and their own misgivings about American foreign policy on one hand, and their own terrorism concerns and the need to maintain good relations with the Bush administration on the other. This task is compounded by the fact that the Bush team tends to react sharply to countries that dare to disagree on terrorism issues. As with many foreign policy issues, European responses have covered the spectrum, from extensive cooperation, like Tony Blair’s government, at one end to opposition, as in the case of Prime Minister Zapatero’s abrupt withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, on the other. Many countries, however, have chosen a middle road, softly criticizing, maintaining silence or giving muted, lukewarm support to U.S. policies in public while turning a blind eye to U.S. actions, or even aiding them, in private. Obviously, these are not the ingredients for a common European policy on the issue of America’s response to terrorism. Even at the national level, European governments remain unsure as to how to sensibly combat terrorism and still maintain good relations with the Bush administration. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. To a certain extent the Bushies have recently softened their “either with us or with the terrorists” approach to their allies. However, their zealous, myopic view on the subject of terrorism has not changed. It seems that Europeans governments will have to wait until 2008, at the earliest, for a more comfortable partner across the Atlantic, at least when it comes to terrorism.

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