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The Privatization of War

That many governments outside the US are skeptical about any US-led invasion of Iraq, when not openly opposed to it, is well known. Less recognized is the division between America and much of the world on how to combat terrorism. That division is dangerous.

It is not surprising that attitudes diverged so soon after the initial solidarity that followed the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. After all, the tragedy of September 11 th happened within the US, so the sense of immediacy was greater and longer lasting there. In Europe, many governments are anxious not to frighten their populations or damage relations with their Muslim minorities. Some believe that American foreign policy was partly responsible for the disaster and that it would be wise to distance themselves somewhat from the US.

Perhaps the most important factor opening this divide was a widespread sense of déjà vu. Europe lived through severe terrorist episodes in the 1970s and 1980s, yet managed to overcome them with their democracies intact. Terrorism (most Europeans think) is a nuisance to be managed, not a challenge requiring total change. Moreover, the political rhetoric of "evil" and "war" that mobilizes Americans seems alien to those who prefer a managerial approach.

Different perceptions are natural among different political cultures. Unchecked, however, these conflicting views could have dangerous effects by limiting the cooperation that is needed to address common vulnerabilities. Such cooperation is essential because today's terrorism is markedly more lethal and difficult to manage than earlier versions.