The morning after the American raid on Libya, people around the world began taking up what turned out to be rather predictable places in the spectrum of opinion on these matters. The Soviets found fault and, perhaps partly to cover their failure to ensure a favored client's defense, cancelled a summit-planning meeting of foreign secretaries. The Israelis and a few other habitual victims of terrorism applauded. Most Americans, we surmise, felt both that the United States was under immense pressure to respond to a last-straw terrorist provocation where the intelligence was precise and timely, and that the response might entail substantial costs.
But what caught our special attention yesterday was the reaction of France and Britain. Libyan terror, let it be admitted first of all, is generally a tough one for Europeans. They tend to regard NATO as an alliance directed against Soviet power, and to shrink from American attempts to stretch its obligations to affairs outside Europe. They often have commercial and other traditional ties with Third World countries that are more extensive than the ties the United States has. They have long feared that the mutual repulsion of Ronald Reagan and Muammar Qaddafi has taken on the aspect of a personal duel.
In respect to the raid, however, France and Britain set themselves apart from this general framework in distinctive ways.
The French denied an American request to overfly their territory on the way to Libya. Yesterday they deplored the United States' as well as Libya's contributions to a "spiral of violence" and assured one and all -- are you ready? -- that if Col. Qaddafi puts into effect his latest batch of threats against Europe, "the European states should decide upon an appropriate riposte."
The British allowed use of their bases. Yesterday Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made the simple and telling point that the recent victim of Libyan terrorism in West Berlin was a member of a large American military force stationed in Europe precisely to defend Europeans. It is said in dismissal that she owed Ronald Reagan for his support in the Falklands war. Owing can be the debt of a lackey. It can also be the free offering of a friend who understands the purpose of alliance. The moment is something of a lonely one for the United States. It is good to have British company.