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Europe's Public and the Anti-Terrorism War

BERLIN: Chancellor Schröder's government coalition barely scraped through Germany's Bundestag to secure the support it needed to dispatch German soldiers to help in the campaign against international terrorism. No doubt special circumstances accompanied that vote, but the effort which the country's most respected and powerful politician expended in order to gain the backing of Germany's parliament (as well as his coalition partners, the Greens) should be a warning to other Western governments not to leave their publics behind as they engage in the tough, multi-year campaign against the planners and executors of international terrorism.

In the first weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon governments all over Europe were certain of public support. That changed when the US bombing against the Taliban began; doubts over the wisdom of the US campaign combined with resentment at seeing a super-modern superpower pound away at a medieval country devastated by decades of war. These doubts were moderated somewhat as America's strategy began to produce results. But they are certain to resurface and grow as memories of September 11 th attacks fade and the effort to stamp out terrorism encounters new difficulties, setbacks and dilemmas and possibly requires risky military operations elsewhere.

Maintaining public support within the US is no problem for America's leadership. Americans are both shocked and angered by the attack on their cherished invulnerability and are determined to pursue the perpetrators with every means at their disposal. President Bush has made this his top priority; for as long as he is in the White House, he will not waver in this pursuit and neither will his people.

But to retain popular backing will be a problem in Western Europe, America's closest allies. Should they cease to support the US, the unique transatlantic partnership could disintegrate. A wounded America appreciated the spontaneous demonstrations of sympathy and solidarity that poured across the Atlantic after September 11 th . But this will turn into furious rejection if Europe were to sow doubt over what Americans now regard as the most dangerous - if not the only challenge - to the common security of the Atlantic community.