Evaluating the Attacks' Effects on U.S. Allies

This week's bombings in London mark the first major assault on a U.S. ally in Europe since the Madrid bombings 16 months ago. Those attacks led to an about-face in Spanish foreign policy — and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. Though it's unlikely the British will follow suit, questions are arising over whether U.S. allies will increasingly consider the consequences of supporting Washington's policies overseas.

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This week's attacks on London, following similar attacks on Madrid in 2004, have raised new questions in Europe about the consequences of supporting US policies in Iraq and in the war on terror. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

In the hours after the London bombings, world leaders were quick to reaffirm their steadfast support for the war on terror. French President Jacques Chirac spoke of his horror on hearing the news.

President JACQUES CHIRAC (France): (Through Translator) These acts are indescribable. This scorn for human life is something we must fight with ever greater firmness and with ever greater solidarity between the great nations of the world against those who commit them.

KELLY: But solidarity aside, by yesterday, there were signs that some US allies might be wavering in their support for US ventures abroad. Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, announced his plans to start withdrawing troops from Iraq in September. Berlusconi insisted he's not speeding up the pullout because of terror threats, that he was merely reiterating an earlier pledge to start bringing troops home. But Berlusconi's timing is notable, coming the day after the London bombs and just hours after a group claiming links to al-Qaeda posted an Internet message threatening Rome would be next. Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy expert at The Brookings Institution, says Italy isn't alone in weighing the price of standing by the US in Iraq.

Mr. IVO DAALDER (The Brookings Institution): Remember, the Poles are leaving by the end of the year. The Ukrainians are leaving by the end of the year. The Dutch have left. The Norwegians have left. The Hungarians have left. The Italians have said that they're going to cut their forces by the end of the year, and the same is true with the Danes. And now even the Brits are starting to say that they really want to cut their forces from the 8,000 or so they have down to about 3,000 by the middle of next year.

KELLY: Daalder sees a growing divide between Europe and the Bush administration over how to proceed in Iraq and in the war on terror. President Bush has argued the two are intimately linked, but Daalder says Europeans see the two as separate ventures, and he says the London attacks will drive home the belief in European capitals that Iraq is in fact a diversion from a more pressing threat.

Mr. DAALDER: If the primary goal was to prevent the next London bombing or the next New York bombing or the next Paris bombing, it isn't clear that having our military, intelligence and law enforcement and, indeed, our leaders' energy focused all on Iraq is the best way to bring this about.

KELLY: Leslie Gelb, a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, says this week's terror attacks may indeed result in more pressure from allies on President Bush to explain his strategy in Iraq. But Gelb doubts the strike will lead to any profound rearrangement of diplomatic loyalties.

Mr. LESLIE GELB (Council on Foreign Relations): I think it will get the press in all these countries jumpy, but I think basically the governments involved will hold steady. I don't think they'll change their policy on Iraq or on cooperating with one another and with us on terrorism as a result of it.

KELLY: It is true, though, that newspapers in countries with troops in Iraq were yesterday raising uncomfortable questions. The front page of one Polish paper asked, `Now will they hit Poland?' while Italy's La Stampa wrote, `Next time, it will be our turn.' Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

SIMON: And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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