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European wake-up call
Media General News Service


February 20, 2006

WASHINGTON - The continuing riots and economic boycott against Danes and other foreigners in the Muslim world appear to be having a profound effect on attitudes throughout Europe.

The resolve of the NATO allies against radical Islamic terrorism is still far softer than it was against the Soviet threat. American leadership remains in question in Europe.

Yet the last few weeks have been a real wakeup call for Europeans. The changing reaction of key leaders indicates a scare is being thrown into the continent by the continuing violence and intimidation aimed at publication of the prophet Muhammad cartoons.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union, last week expressed "solidarity" with the Danish people and said Europe had to stick together on freedom of speech and the core ideals of the Western civilization.

"We have to stick very much to these values," Barroso told the International Herald Tribune. "If not we are accepting fear in this society."

The fear of democratic values being overtaken by intimidation is at the core of this controversy. It is a dynamic that has been at work since 9/11, but somehow not as powerfully as it has been in recent weeks.

Barroso, like other Western leaders, including President Bush, has been criticized for not coming quickly to Denmark's defense after Muslims attacked its embassies and other installations to protest publication of the cartoons by a Danish newspaper.

But now he is speaking out, comparing the kind of absolute censorship that some Islamic leaders are demanding to that imposed in his own country, Portugal, by a totalitarian regime when he was a youth.

"I defend the democratic system," he said, attacking the "stigma against Denmark" while asserting that the vast majority of Muslims in Europe were in favor of European values.

The question is how Barroso's staunch language and that of other European leaders in recent days could be turned to U.S. advantage in the hard slog ahead to finish up business in Iraq and defeat al Qaeda and the international terrorist network.

The Pentagon now talks of a "Long War" that will last somewhere between decades and an eternity. Gen. Peter Pace's quadrennial strategic review declares almost casually that the war against global Islamic extremists "may well be fought in dozens of other countries simultaneously and for many years to come."

This isn't a new concept by any means. President Bush, in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy last October, outlined new horizons for the war on terrorism spreading from Iraq. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other leaders despaired at the time that it sounded like a prescription for permanent instability or civil war in the area.

Since then, there has been a steady drumbeat of reports of a drawdown of forces next year from the existing level of 138,000 to 100,000. The administration has not discouraged such speculation, but the White House and the Defense department both are saying it is entirely up to commanders in the field.

Meanwhile, preparations are under way for a wider and longer war.

If the war spreads into Iran, Syria or other directions, NATO help and that of other allies could be critical. For the United States to shoulder such a burden virtually alone - with help from just Poland, Britain and a few other staunch allies - is a lot to ask.

The Europeans are now shocked by the behavior of radical Muslims toward a deeply held Western civil liberty. They may now be in a mood to commit a fairer share to the international peacekeeping burden, through NATO, than they did earlier.

France, Germany and others slammed doors in the U.S. coalition's face when it asked for United Nations backing to invade Iraq.

They had their reasons, but now there have been changes in government. Germany has a new pro-American chancellor, Angela Merkel. Her position is that she understands the Muslims were hurt by the cartoons but that free speech must be defended and violence is unacceptable.

The European parliament, similarly, has taken a firm position behind the right to publish the cartoons and spoken out against the violence aimed at free speech.

It would be worth trying to enlist NATO again. These are aroused people.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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