However bad many Americans think that the Obama administration is on security matters, at least one thing can be said in their favor: they are not Europeans.
An advisor to President Obama last week condemned the European Union's weakness on security issues, and one, in particular, namely its disgraceful and pusillanimous behaviour on what should be an open-and-shut case.
Speaking in Dublin last Saturday, the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, John Brennan, criticized the European Union for its complete failure to stand up to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
It will be amazing to many Americans – and indeed to many Europeans – that the group remains able to operate, recruit and raise funds within the EU. In America, which like France, felt the full brunt of Hezbollah activities in Beirut in 1983, the organization has long been banned in any and all of its guises. This last August Washington, which already sanctions and classifies Hezbollah as a foreign "terrorist organization," additionally put the group on a list of organizations under sanctions for involvement in the slaughter being carried out in Syria by Bashar al-Assad's regime. As Brennan added, in addition to its involvement with terrorist activities carried out by Iran, Hezbollah "is training militants in Yemen and Syria." Even that does not do justice to the scope, range and history of Hezbollah's ambitions.
In the EU however, the group is able to fundraise unhindered. This appalling fact has come about because of an entirely false distinction which the EU continues to observe. It is a distinction entirely of its own invention.
For the EU claims that there is a difference between the "political"' and the "military" wings of Hezbollah. Therefore as long as the "political" side of their activities is being pursued the EU considers it legitimate activity. Of course there is a striking fact here: nobody outside the EU believes there is any such internal distinction within Hezbollah. The American government does not see it; the Canadian government does not see it. The governments of Iran and Syria do not see it. The people of Lebanon do not see it. And of course Hezbollah itself certainly does not see it.
For the leadership of Hezbollah the issue of its legitimacy within the EU is a source of considerable satisfaction. Where would Hezbollah be without the EU? The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has already made it very clear where they would be. A few years back Nasrallah said that if the EU designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group in its entirety it would "destroy" the organization; as Nasrallah put it, "[t]he sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."
Any other political entity in the West would recognize that as an invitation. But for the EU it is a terrible warning. For one of the reasons why the EU continues to argue for a political-military divide is that proscribing the fictitious "political wing" of Hezbollah would risk destabilizing Lebanon. Anybody who knows anything at all about Lebanon might observe that Hezbollah is doing perfectly nicely at destabilizing Lebanon already. Hezbollah's parallel state within Lebanon, its private army and road-blocks, its blackmailing of its opponents and its bribery of those it wishes to keep it in power is destabilizing enough. And that is not even to mention the deeply "stabilizing" (if you are the EU) effects that the group must have as they carry out assassinations of opponents, bombings in civilian areas and so on.
The EU has been here before. During the same period they came up with their false wall-of-separation within Hezbollah they did the same thing with Hamas. That terror group too, they decided, had a military and a political wing. After the atrocities of the Second Intifada, however, that fiction disappeared. It did not disappear because the EU was made aware of something it had previously been unaware of. It disappeared in Europe because it was no longer possible – in terms of public opinion or political expediency – to allow a group to operate which blew up buses full of civilians.
Of course in July this year an Iranian proxy of some kind – believed by many to be Hezbollah – did exactly that on European soil. The bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria showed that Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are not only willing but able to use within the EU the tactics they have used for years in the Middle East and, in the case of Hezbollah, as far away as Buenos Aires in the 1990s.
That the same EU which has seen a member country attacked by such terror should continue to permit such terrorists to recruit and fundraise on EU soil is an utterly unsustainable position. The distinction will break down, but it will have to be pushed. Recently in Dublin John Brennan did some of that pushing. He described the European stance on Hezbollah as something that "makes it harder to defend our countries and protect our citizens."
He is right, and should be applauded for stating the case. The EU will have to listen. The only question is how long they remain willing to help Hezbollah in its last European hurrah.