Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 23:40 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 23:40 | SYDNEY

Gates to Europe: Be scared


Sam Roggeveen


12 February 2008 12:04

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' recent speech in Munich has an air of desperation about it: the leaders of NATO countries are, it seems, so immovable on sending substantial reinforcements to Afghanistan that Gates has decided to go over their heads and speak directly to the people of Europe:

So now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied leaders on the continent and speak directly to the people of Europe:  The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real – and it is not going away. You know all too well about the attacks in Madrid and London. But there have also been multiple smaller attacks in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, and Glasgow, among others. Numerous cells and plots have been disrupted in recent years as well – many of them seeking large-scale death and destruction, such as:

  • A complex plot to down multiple airliners over the Atlantic that could have killed hundreds or thousands; 
  • A plot to use ricin and release cyanide in the London Underground;
  • A separate plan for a chemical attack in the Paris metro;
  • Plots in Belgium, England, and Germany involving car bombs that could have killed hundreds;
  • Homemade bombs targeting commuter and high-speed trains in Spain and Germany;
  • Individuals arrested in Bosnia with explosives, a suicide belt, and an instructional propaganda video;
  • Two plots in Denmark involving explosives, fertilizer, and a bomb-making video; and
  • Just in the last few weeks, Spanish authorities arrested 14 Islamic extremists in Barcelona suspected of planning suicide attacks against public transport systems in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Britain.

Imagine, for a moment, if some or all of these attacks had come to pass. Imagine if Islamic terrorists had managed to strike your capitals on the same scale as they struck in New York. Imagine if they had laid their hands on weapons and materials with even greater destructive capability – weapons of the sort all too easily accessible in the world today. We forget at our peril that the ambition of Islamic extremists is limited only by opportunity.

The subtext seems to be that Europeans just don't realise how serious the terrorist threat is. But maybe Europeans actually have a very good understanding of the threat, and have decided the Afghanistan operation is not a sensible way to meet it. There's a hint in Gates speech that he himself sees this: he justifies the Afghanistan operation not because winning there would help to meet the threats he has listed, but because losing would increase the threat.

He may be right about this, but it's a pretty lousy sales pitch.