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By Bill Gallagher

The rolling hills of Luxembourg are lush green in early summer. The gentle, open beauty of the region and the compact villages are so different from the ugly sprawl we see at home.

We drive on and pass through an unprotected border and into Belgium on the road to Brussels, the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the administrative base for the European Union.

We are in the Ardennes, a lovely forested plateau. It looks and feels ever so peaceful, and then we see a sign -- Bastogne 20 km. The name of the town transforms the bucolic scene of the day into a different time and perspective.

This is where more than one million men -- 500,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British -- squared off for the greatest pitched battle of World War II: The Battle of the Bulge.

The Germans mounted a bold counteroffensive in December, 1944, breaking through the Allied lines and hoping to make a mad dash to the harbor in Antwerp and capture the port where Allied troops and equipment were pouring in for the invasion of Germany.

The fighting was fierce, especially in and around Bastogne. In the brutal cold, American and German casualties -- killed, wounded or captured -- topped 180,000.

Belgian towns were heavily damaged. About 2,500 civilians, liberated just months before, died in the crossfire. The courageous American Army endured, and the Germans ran out of gas. The Allies won the Battle of the Bulge, but the memories of war and violence live on in the quiet Belgian countryside.

Europeans have more experience with war than we do, and the two great wars of the 20th century have touched them in a way profoundly different from the American experience in both conflicts.

Just consider the death tolls in World War I. The Germans lost 2 million, the Russians 1.75 million, France 1.5 million, and tiny Belgium 44,000.

The Americans lost only 100,000 and none of the fighting was on U.S. soil.

World War II was even worse, and a half century of cold war and nuclear brinkmanship forged even more aversion in Europe to the use of war as a tool to impose national will.

The evolution of the European Union as a structure for political resolution of conflict is an extraordinary development in human history, little understood or appreciated on our side of the Atlantic.

The Europeans can talk endlessly about politics and public affairs. They generally know considerably more about what's going on in the world than most Americans, especially the insular Texans who dominate the Bush administration and the Congress, and the lockstep dittoheads who cheer them on under the direction of Lord Limbaugh.

Winston Churchill was Britain's Prime Minister in World War II. He was First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I, went to Sandhurst, the British West Point, fought in the Boer War in South Africa and coined the term "iron curtain." His credential as a warrior was unchallenged, but he respected the power of talk as well. "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war," Churchill once said.

At the United Nations and in NATO, Europeans are demanding more talk and more patience from Americans beating the war drums for a preemptive military assault on Iraq.

My trek to Brussels came in 1999 when American and German foundations selected me, along with several other broadcast journalists, to study German and European political, economic and security issues.

We covered the European Parliament elections in Bonn, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and plans for the introduction of the Euro, presentations on the EU legal and administrative structure, NATO's organization in Brussels and the G-8 summit in Cologne. For weeks we heard talk, talk, talk.

But those were bright days and America's relations with Europe were cooperative and our alliance worked well.

At NATO, the admirals and generals from the 19 nations were proud of what they were completing in Kosovo. NATO, which has always required unanimous consent to take military action, had protected ethnic Albanians from the same slaughter the Serbs had carried out in Bosnia.

In Cologne, the United States, along with the other economic giants, had pledged to help relieve unbearable debt for emerging nations. Talk, the Europeans have learned through centuries of tragic experience, is preferable to war and can bring progress.

We Americans are always in a hurry and on the move. Talk often bores us and we want action. Europeans have a different pace and are generally more reflective. We can learn from them.

The Bush administration from its start alienated our European friends with the high-handed unilateralism that characterizes the most arrogant, thuggish American presidency since Nixon's.

First, Bush sold out to big industrial polluters and summarily pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The message to Europe was simple: The nation that could most afford to reduce carbon dioxide emissions won't and public health around the world be damned.

Then Bush pulled the United States out of an agreement to create the International Criminal Court much favored in Europe. Never mind that American diplomats had spent years developing the plan, the Bush administration wanted nothing to do with a court that might try their pal Henry Kissinger for war crimes. "Not prudent," as the president's daddy would say.

It is amazing how quickly the Bush administration squandered the European good will extended our way after Sept. 11. Remember the headline in France's Le Monde was, "Now we are all Americans."

The Europeans know very well the difficult war on bin Laden and al-Qaeda terrorism was quickly morphed into an obsession for regime change in Iraq. Saddam is dangerous in his neighborhood, but what's wrong with keeping UN inspectors there indefinitely?

A New York Times poll shows even most Americans, 59 percent, favor giving the inspectors more time to do their work. Sixty-three percent say Washington should not act without support of its allies and 56 percent want Bush to wait for the OK from the UN before taking military action.

The polls in Europe are staggering and disturbing. A majority of Germans believe the United States is a nation of warmongers. Ninety-three percent say Bush is ready to go to war to pursue his own interests and 80 percent say the United States wants war to boost its own power. At very least, we have a serious perception problem over there.

It's bunk to believe al-Qaeda's got an office in Baghdad and bin Laden prays for Saddam's good health. In fact, a U.S. attack on Iraq is a win-win for bin Laden.

It would rid him of the despised, secular Saddam and provide his Saudi-financed hate schools with more murderous young people to kill Americans.

I know it's always fashionable to bash the French. They can be obstreperous and rival us in arrogance, but occasionally even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.

Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States, offers this wise caution, "People in France and more broadly in Europe fear that a military intervention could fuel extremism and encourage al-Qaeda recruitment. A war could weaken the indispensable international coalition against terrorism and worsen the threat of Islamist terrorism." Bush and company should heed the advice, but they won't.

(A digression: Last week will be remembered in history for "the duct tape folly." That laughable stupidity was based on a terrorist alert that warned al-Qaeda had a detailed plan to set off a "dirty bomb." ABC's Brian Ross, one of the best reporters anywhere, learned the informant, a captured al-Qaeda member, who made the claim had flunked a lie detector test and the whole story was a fabricated yarn. The government, of course, won't change the high alert that fosters the war mentality and most of the media ignored or buried the report.)

On Saturday, 6 million people in Europe and millions more in the United States took to the streets to stand up against the war Bush and his people began planning against Iraq one week after Sept. 11.

I pray it doesn't happen, but fear it will. San Francisco Gate columnist Mark Morford has a grip on it. "We are going to massacre Iraq very soon now, no matter what anyone says, no matter which appalled UN member nation vetoes the decision. Poll after poll, protest after protest show the American people don't want it, and the international community is horrified and disgusted, our UN standing is a joke and we are quickly becoming the laughingstock brat child of the entire global community."

George W. Bush is ready to whack a hornets' nest with a baseball bat, and Osama bin Laden couldn't be more happy.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com February 18 2003