WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last week, while American soldiers dodged gunfire in the Afghan mountains near the Pakistani border; while a retired U.S. Marine general was struggling to negotiate a cease fire in the Middle East; and while U.S. Air Force A-10 attack aircraft were arriving at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, I was defending the United States from our European "allies." It wasn't the purpose of my visit.
Fox News Channel sent me to Normandy and London to complete two War Stories episodes -- one covering the 1940 Battle of Britain and the other about the June 6, 1944, Allied landings on the Norman coast. While there, I found myself practicing "damage control" against French and British critics of our counter-terrorism strategy. It was hard to believe that these modern-day malcontents are relatives of the people who fought those momentous battles a generation ago.
In retrospect, I suppose it was naive to expect the French and British political classes to have anything but animosity for the United States and our worldwide fight against terrorism. And in fairness, those who actually work for a living -- cab drivers, restaurateurs and shopkeepers -- are fond of Americans and respect the Bush administration's goals. But in the press rooms, broadcast centers and salons of the self-significant, there is an antipathy toward the United States that I haven't seen in decades.
My first encounter was at a dinner in Paris after returning from Omaha Beach. In a room overlooking streets once patrolled by Hitler's storm troopers, members of the Parisian press and ex-government officials confronted me with a laundry list of grievances: "The treatment of the Afghan detainees in Guantanamo, Cuba, is 'inhumane.' There is no provocation for threatening Iraq. The United States should have 'told the Jews' to let Arafat go to the Arab Summit in Beirut. Don't expect us to help you make war against Moslems all around the world. George Bush is swashbuckling around the planet like President John Wayne."
I admit that my French is deplorable, and I can't confirm whether my inquisitor said "swashbuckling" or "buckswashling." But I'm fairly certain he was thinking of Ronald Reagan, not John Wayne.
But when he criticized Vice President Dick Cheney for snubbing Yasser Arafat, I'd had enough. I politely reminded my antagonist that I had once been in the business of killing people, and his diatribe was tempting me to come out of retirement. "Further," I said, "I have just left the American cemetery at Colleville, overlooking Omaha Beach, where nearly 10,000 of my father's comrades in arms lie buried, and I don't want to hear any more complaints about my country." Silenced, he shrugged and walked away.
Could these be the same people whose parents and grandparents risked their lives in the French resistance rescuing downed American airmen and jeopardized their families by saving Jews from Hitler's holocaust?
The next day, I learned that timorous appeasement syndrome isn't confined to Paris. In London, the criticism was almost identical -- though easier to understand. A British newspaperman, staked out at my hotel, pointed to my Old Glory lapel pin and asked, "Here to show the American flag while your paratroopers are killing innocent Afghanis?" His follow-up was, "How many young British boys are going to have to die in the Hindu Kush before you Yanks are happy?"
A newspaper editorial that morning admonished the World Trade Organization to impose severe sanctions on the United States for the tariffs we've placed on imported steel. In Parliament, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for trade and industry asked the European Union to respond to this "unjustified American action."
On radio, Winston Churchill often urged his countrymen to "never give in." Last week, British television filled the airwaves with members of Parliament castigating Prime Minister Tony Blair for supporting the United States' war on terror. On the morning I left, the Manchester Guardian featured carping critics of Blair's own party. One whined that "any extension of the war to Iraq could bring about an intensification, and indeed a breach, of the anti-terrorist coalition." Another opined, "The American Air Force has probably killed more women and children than any other force in the world." Their refrains eerily resemble British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's Sept. 29, 1938, promise of "peace in our time."
Had Chamberlain and the Europeans stood up to Hitler in 1938, rather than appease him, World War II might well have been prevented and the death of 405,399 Americans avoided.
But this time we were attacked first, and the Euro-elites need to face facts. The war on terrorism is the consequence of European tolerance for Islamic extremism. Mohammad Atta, Osama bin Ladin's "unit commander" for the 9-11 attack, was a regular in Germany. Zacharias Moussaoui, now awaiting trial in Alexandria, Va., traveled freely in France -- and carried a French passport. Richard Reid, the infamous shoe bomber, brought his exploding sneakers on board a U.S. airliner through France.
If European leaders want the United States to respect their complaints, they need to take terrorism seriously. As President Bush said of this first war of the 21st century: "Some governments will be timid in the face of terror. (But) make no mistake about it; if they do not act, America will." That's pretty straightforward talk -- that our "allies" should heed -- before Americans ask, "With friends like these, who needs ..."