ATHENS, GREECE -- While changing planes here in this ancient capital, I arranged to meet with an old friend who has long experience in the Middle East. Fluent in many Mediterranean and Persian Gulf languages and intimately familiar with the long, sad history of enmity in the region, he worked quietly with Americans for decades. I first met him in the 1980s during sensitive -- but ultimately fruitless -- efforts to elicit help from Arab governments in obtaining the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon. Throughout his personal triumphs and failures, successes and frustrations, I've always found him optimistic, his affection and admiration for the United States undimmed. But not this time; now he is nearly despondent about the current course of events and prospects for the future.
"Does anyone in the United States understand what's happening today?" he asked as we sat down over cups of strong coffee. "Look at this," he said, gesturing to headlines in the stack of newspapers he had placed on the table. "The world is at the brink of a cataclysm with radical Islam, and no one in the U.S. government seems to know it. Washington is stunningly naive."
Our conversation eventually turned to family and friends, but after we parted, his "stunningly naive" comment proved haunting. And here, on the pages of a half-dozen English-language, European newspapers he left behind, are the reasons why:
-- "Iran gives 'positive' response to U.S.-European Nuclear Offer." Near-identical headlines were in every paper. Each article, based on "news" services, quoted Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying Iran would "forcefully" pursue nuclear enrichment. European Union foreign policy spokesman Javier Solana observed that Tehran's "official" 20-page reply, provided by Ali Larijani of the Iranian foreign ministry, requires "detailed and careful analysis." President Bush and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, the only American officials cited in any of the pieces, referred the matter back to the U.N. Security Council.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.