Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Europe, NATO, Afghanistan and the War on Terror

Other then the U.S. and U.K., support of NATO members for the war in Afghanistan, as well as for U.S. efforts to protect itself and other Western nations from the threat of radical Muslim terrorism, has been problematic, to use the understated language of diplomacy. There is an excellent editorial on this topic from the WSJ, and I include it here in its entirity for those unable to access the WSJ pages.

February 27, 2007; Page A16

On Oct. 2, 2001, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization took the unprecedented step of formally invoking Article 5 of its 1949 Charter, which says that "an armed attack against one or more of them. . . . shall be considered an attack against all of them." Lord Geoffrey Robertson, then NATO's secretary-general, gave a press conference saying he wanted to "reiterate that the United States of America can rely on the full support of its 18 NATO Allies in the campaign against terrorism."

In recent weeks, we've been reminded once again just how cheap those promises were. On Thursday, Stéphane Dion, who leads Canada's Liberal Party, announced that as prime minister he would bring an end to the country's 2,500-strong military commitment to southern Afghanistan. "Neither Canada, NATO nor the Americans anticipated how violent and dangerous Kandahar would become in 2006," he said, adding that the proper role for Canadian forces is "to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people."

Also in recent weeks, the Italian government of Romano Prodi briefly collapsed after it was unable to muster the votes to approve the enlargement of a U.S. Army base in Vicenza along with the continuance of Italy's 2,000-man deployment in Afghanistan. George W. Bush has had to plead publicly with NATO nations to increase their troop commitments and -- would it be too much to ask? -- deploy them in areas where they are likely to see combat. To make up for the NATO shortfall, Britain is sending in another 1,400 soldiers, while the U.S. is extending the tour of the Tenth Mountain Infantry Brigade and sending in troops from the 82nd Airborne.

It is a statistical certainty that American and British soldiers will pay a price in blood this spring because their French, Spanish, Italian, German and -- if Mr. Dion has his way -- Canadian counterparts mean to keep their moral slates clean. A century ago that would have been a mark of martial and national dishonor, of "letting the side down." Today, it is a concession to the political reality that most NATO governments cannot muster political support for anything except a "peace mission" in Afghanistan. "If you are non-U.S., implicitly there is a political calculus," says a senior U.S. Army officer about his NATO colleagues. "You are looking over your shoulder to Ottawa. You're asking: 'Will getting five killed-in-action mean a phone call about the wisdom of this particular operation?'"

Afghanistan, of course, was supposed to have been the "good war" -- the war that, unlike Iraq, everyone was willing to fight. Now the best that can be said for France, Germany, Italy and company is that they will not actively stand in the way of its being fought, so long as they're not fighting.

But even that is an improvement over the way some European governments are conducting themselves in the war on terror closer to home. Earlier this month, an Italian court named and indicted 25 CIA officers and five Italian officials for the rendition to Egypt of a cleric named Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, aka Abu Omar. Germany, too, has issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA officers involved in the abduction (in Macedonia) of a German man of Lebanese descent named Khaled al-Masri. Mr. Masri has since become a cause célèbre back home -- a living indictment of the Bush administration's perfidious approach to fighting terrorism.

In Sheikh Omar's case, even the Italians don't dispute the Egyptian was a dangerous actor: He is believed to have recruited terrorists and plotted an attack on the U.S. embassy in Rome. Mr. Masri, by contrast, is usually depicted as an innocent caught up in a web of CIA intrigue. But as John Rosenthal of the invaluable Transatlantic Intelligencer blog notes, it was German, not American, intelligence that first became intensely concerned about Mr. Masri's activities.

Not two weeks after 9/11, Mr. Masri was already being investigated by authorities in Baden-Württemberg as a "follower of Bin Laden." A classified report from Germany's Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations notes that Mr. Masri maintained "numerous contacts to dangerous persons and accused suspects in the domain of Islamist terrorism." He had a friendship with a militant Islamist named Reda Seyam, suspected of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings. He frequented an Islamic Cultural Center known for distributing audiocassettes with such charming messages as "Whoever fights against the Christians, the Jews and their allies is a martyr." It was shut down by Bavarian officials in December 2005 and the organization that ran it was banned.

For all this, Mr. Masri may be guilty of nothing more than fellow-traveling. The same might be said of the German government, which at a minimum involved itself in the abduction it now means to prosecute by agreeing to keep the whole matter secret. "The German government, witness to the entire incident, pretended not to know anything," the German newsweekly Der Spiegel reported in 2005. "In a court of law, such behavior amounts to the suppression of evidence."

The German government also involved itself in another apparent CIA kidnapping in December 2001 of a German citizen and terrorist suspect named Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was later rendered to his native Syria. Rather than demand his instant repatriation, however, the government of Gerhard Schröder arranged for investigators to interview Mr. Zammer in Syria, in exchange for which it dropped charges against two Syrian agents in Germany. Mr. Zammar remains in a Syrian prison.

None of this need shame the German government: Mr. Zammar is reported to have recruited some of the 9/11 hijackers and his fate is richly deserved. What is shameful is that the same governments that actively colluded with the U.S. to bring the worst terrorist cases to some kind of justice are now bending to the demands of activist prosecutors and the prevailing anti-American mood, and again allowing the U.S. to take the flak for what were often joint operations. For the indicted CIA officers, that flak is less deadly than what the GIs in Afghanistan can look forward to this spring. But the principle is the same.

Asked what he worried about most in wartime, Napoleon is said to have replied, "Allies." Plus ça change.

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