On March 11, 2004, 192 people were killed and 1,400 wounded in a series of terrorist attacks in Madrid. Three days later, Spain's Socialist leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, was elected prime minister. Just 24 hours after being sworn in, Zapatero ordered Spanish troops to leave Iraq "as soon as possible."
The directive was a monumental political victory for extremist Islam. Since then, Europe's boots on the ground have not been dispatched outside Europe to fight jihadism; instead, they have been deployed inside the European countries to protect monuments and civilians.
"Opération Sentinelle" is the first new large-scale military operation within France. The army is now protecting synagogues, art galleries, schools, newspapers, public offices and underground stations. Of all French soldiers currently engaged in military operations, half of them are deployed inside France. And half of those are assigned to protect 717 Jewish schools. Meanwhile, French paralysis before ISIS is immortalized by the image of police running away from the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during the massacre there.
French soldiers guard a Jewish school in Strasbourg, February 2015. (Image source: Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons)
You can find the same figure in Italy: 11,000 Italian soldiers are currently engaged in military operations and more than half of them are used in operation "Safe Streets," which, as its name reveals, keeps Italy's cities safe. Italy's army is also busy providing aid to migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
In 2003, Italy was one of the very few countries, along with Spain and Britain, which stood with the United States in its noble war in Iraq -- a war that was successful until the infamous US pull-out on December 18, 2011.
Today, Italy, like Spain, runs away from its responsibility in the war against the Islamic State. Italy's Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti ruled out the idea of Italy taking part in action against ISIS, after EU defense ministers unanimously backed a French request for help.
Italy's soldiers, stationed in front of my newspaper's office in Rome, provide a semblance of security, but the fact that half of Italy's soldiers are engaged in domestic security, and not in offensive military strikes, should give us pause. These numbers shed a light not only on Europe's internal terror frontlines, from the French banlieues to "Londonistan." These numbers also shed light on the great Western retreat.
US President Barack Obama has boasted that as part of his legacy, he has withdrawn American military forces from the Middle East. His shameful departure from Iraq has been the main reason that the Islamic State rose to power -- and the reason Obama postponed a military withdrawal from Afghanistan. This US retreat can only be compared to the fall of Saigon, with the picture of a helicopter evacuating the U.S. embassy.
In Europe, armies are no longer even ready for war. The German army is now useless, and Germany spends only 1.2% of GDP on defense. The German army today has the lowest number of staff at any time in its history.
In 2012, Germany's highest court, breaking a 67-year-old taboo against using the military within Germany's borders, allowed the military to be deployed in domestic operations. The post-Hitler nation's fear that the army could develop again into a state-within-a-state that might impede democracy has paralyzed Europe's largest and wealthiest country. Last January, it was revealed that German air force reconnaissance jets cannot even fly at night.
Many European states slumber in the same condition as Belgium, with its failed security apparatus. A senior U.S. intelligence officer even recently likened the Belgian security forces to "children." And Sweden's commander-in-chief, Sverker Göranson, said his country could only fend off an invasion for a maximum of one week.
During the past ten years, the United Kingdom has also increasingly been seen by its allies -- both in the US and in Europe -- as a power in retreat, focusing only on its domestic agenda. The British have become increasingly insular - a littler England.
The UK's armed forces have been downsized; the army alone is expected to shrink from 102,000 soldiers in 2010 to 82,000 by 2020 - its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars. The former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Nigel Essenigh, has spoken of "uncomfortable similarities" between the UK's defenses now and those in the early 1930s, during the rise of Nazi Germany.
In Canada, military bases are now being used to host migrants from Middle East. Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, first halted military strikes against ISIS, then refused to join the coalition against it. Terrorism has apparently never been a priority for Trudeau -- not like "gender equality," global warming, euthanasia and injustices committed against Canada's natives.
The bigger question is: Why does anyone choose to fight in a war? Civilized nations go to war so that members of today's generation may sacrifice themselves to protect future generations. But if there are no future generations, there is no reason whatever for today's young men to die in war. It is "demography, stupid."
Spain's fertility has fallen the most -- the lowest in Western Europe over twenty years and the most extreme demographic spiral observed anywhere. Similarly, fewer babies were born in Italy in 2015 than in any year since the state was founded 154 years ago. For the first time in three decades, Italy's population shrank. Germany, likewise, is experiencing a demographic suicide.
This massive deployment of armed forces in our own cities is a departure from history. It is a moral disarmament, before a military one. It is Europe's new Weimar moment, from the name of the first German Republic that was dramatically dismantled by the rise of Nazism. The Weimar Republic still represents a cultural muddle, a masterpiece of unarmed democracy devoted to a mutilated pacifism, a mixture of naïve cultural, political reformism and the first highly developed welfare state.
According to the historian Walter Laqueur, Weimar was the first case of the "life and death of a permissive society." Will Europe's new Weimar also be brought down, this time by Islamists?
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.