February 14, 2006
What Will Europe Really Do?

By Victor Davis Hanson

Nothing is quite as surreal as the Islamic world’s fury at the liberal and innocuous Danes. How could anyone wish to burn their embassies and kill their citizens, when they have always offered all the politically correct, multicultural platitudes and welcomed in any and all from the Middle East?

Now the furor over the cartoons, coming on the heels of the bombings in Madrid and London, the French rioting, the murders in Holland, and the failed European negotiations with the Iranian theocracy have shaken Europe to its foundations.

If the most liberal and tolerant states in Europe such as Holland and Denmark have the most problems with Islamic radicals, then what does that say about the continent as a whole? Why were not the calculating jihadists singling out a more unapologetic Catholic Poland that has larger contingents in Iraq and is far prouder of its Christian roots?

Do the Europeans sense that the more open, free-wheeling and non-judgmental the culture, the more it is hated by the jihadists? If Europe as a whole is more pro-Palestinian than the United States, disapproved of Iraq, and yet is still hated as much, is magnanimity at last exposed as appeasement—earning only contempt from an emboldened enemy?

Don’t look, however, for any overt expression of alarm. It is too much to ask of the European Union for now to go on the record supporting the right of Danish free expression or to demand an embargo of Iran as it approaches nuclear autonomy. Instead, expect the European reaction to be far more subtle: the same old public utopian rhetoric, but in the shadows a newfound desire to galvanize against the threat of Islamic fascism.

Here is what we can probably anticipate. First will come a radical departure from past immigration practices. Islam will be praised; the Middle East assured that Europe is tolerant—but very few newcomers from across the Mediterranean let in.

There will be continued public furor over the American efforts in Iraq, but far greater secret efforts to coordinate with the United States—in everything from isolating the Assad regime in Syria to rethinking missile defense. For the past three years the post-colonial Europeans have wished the Americans to learn their imperial lessons by failing in Iraq. Yet it may well be that many in private will now wish us to succeed, if only in the hopes that such Middle East democracies will be less likely in the future to turn loose their mobs to burn European embassies and threaten their citizens.

We won’t see much public condemnation of Hamas, but more likely quiet efforts to pull the plug slowly on subsidies for such terrorists. The Europeans praised Arafat, then learned that he was singularly corrupt. Nothing disturbs a European more than to be swindled and damned as immoral in the process. Subsidies to Jew-hating Hamas terrorists only ensure both.

Europe will still talk about bringing Turkey into the fold of the West, but de facto is horrified at the thought that millions of a religion that empowers so many to go berserk over a few cartoons might soon comprise the most populous nation of Europe. I doubt any European diplomat will invest any political capital at all in restarting in earnest Turkish/European Union talks.

We can also look forward to more bizarre pronouncements such as Jacques Chirac’s warning about the French nuclear deterrent. In point of fact, Europe has no real defenses against a 9/11-like attack. They know it. So do the terrorists.

Crash an airliner into the dome of St. Peter’s or knock down the Eiffel Tower tomorrow: Europe has no mechanism to hunt down the perpetrators in the Hindu Kush, the Bekka Valley, or the wilds of Iran—much less, like the United States, to hold a rogue regime responsible.

Frustrated by its lack of military resources, but cognizant of the classical need to warn an enemy that more is to be lost than won from starting a war, France is reduced to bluster about nuclear weapons—threats that probably are either not believed or welcomed by the jihadists. In lieu of a credible military, Europe will send more tiny contingents to Afghanistan, remind the world that Britain and France are nuclear, and somehow hurry up to construct a conventional deterrent where there is now none at all.

Finally, the Europeans who despised the unilateral and preemptory George Bush will start to grate at his new multilateral side even more. Be careful what you wish for, especially when an American leader may now not necessarily be such an easy target of caricature—or may not always do the dirty work of fighting jihadists from Pakistan to the Sunni Triangle.

Instead, by letting the Europeans take the lead with the Iranian negotiations, and keeping nearly silent about the cartoon hysteria, the United States essentially has told the Europeans, “Here is the sort of restrained sober and judicious global diplomacy that you so welcome.”

Because of slated troop withdrawals from European bases, and a new American weariness with the old anti-Americanism, some Europeans are beginning to recoil at the idea that they might well be on their own—and in a war against fanatical enemies that they have appeased and without rational friends that they have estranged.

In response, we may see less of the anti-American rhetoric and a return to the Cold War slogans of a “strong Atlantic Alliance” and “an essential Nato,” as nuclear jihadists replace the fear of 300 Soviet divisions.

So now Europe is being thrust right into the middle of the so-called war against Islamic fascism. Once threatened, it will either react with a newly acquired Churchillian maturity to protect its civilization, or cave, in hopes that even more Chamberlain-type appeasement will satisfy the Islamists.

It should be a fascinating spring ahead.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

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Victor Davis Hanson

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