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Afghanistan Exposes Old vs. New Europe

When, against the context of the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the differences between Old Europe (our traditional Cold War allies) and New Europe (states freed from the yoke of communist dictatorship), diplomats and the foreign policy elite castigated him. Diplomacy, after all, downplays the importance of reality, and seeks instead to paper over differences.

I just returned from Iasi, Romania, where I had the privilege to teach a few classes for the Romanian Land Forces’ 15th Mechanized Brigade, as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan. The Romanians are not partners in name only: They have actively taken part in the fighting, have contributed Special Forces, and have taken a number of casualties across multiple rotations. In addition, the Romanians jumped on the opportunity to cooperate in missile defense, and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea town of Constanta plays an increasingly important logistics role for the United States Air Force.

Because of flight schedules, I had to stay in London for a night on my way home, and cooling my heels at the airport hotel, I got an overdose of British media. While I was there and on European time, I also had an opportunity to do an interview on the Afghanistan situation for a French station.

The juxtaposition between Old Europe and New Europe was palpable. British and French journalists seemed infused with defeatism and cynicism with regard to Afghanistan, and did not bother to disguise willingness to condemn others to totalitarian subjugation. The Romanians, however, understood that ideologies can kill and that passivity in the face of evil can condemn generations to slavery.

Alas, it seems that many in the White House are almost embarrassed by the enthusiasm with which countries that either suffered under dictatorship or face a looming threat embrace liberty. The Obama administration has, at various times, thrown Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia under the bus. Beyond the frontiers of Europe, add Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Colombia and Israel to the list.

Realists seek to base partnerships on short-term calculations of national interest. The truest friends, however, are those who embrace liberty as their guiding principle. How tragic it is that these natural allies increasingly doubt the commitment of the United States to them, even as they bend over backwards to become the flag-bearers of that for which the United States has traditionally stood.


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