Ever since George W. Bush's first reaction to Sept. 11 was that this is "war," debate has simmered over whether fighting terrorism is best handled as a military operation or as law-enforcement, using intelligence cooperation, police work, and the courts.
Now that controversy is flaring again, both in the US in the context of the presidential election and among America's allies in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings.
With President Bush set to emphasize in a speech Friday that the war in Iraq is a cornerstone of his war on terrorism, the White House is leaving no doubt about its view that the battle against terror, as practiced in this century, is indeed a war. But that view has not caught on with America's European allies - and has only met with more vehement rejection as the Bush administration has equated the terror war with the Iraq war.
After decades of battling terrorism on their own soil, Europeans continue to believe that the best counterterrorism work is done through police intelligence and cooperation. And they believe that characterizing the fight as a "war" only antagonizes the populations that have produced terrorist groups and makes it harder to address the root causes of terrorism.
What may have changed now is the arrival of the same kind of terrorism in the heart of Europe that prompted America's sense of urgency, some experts say. But they add that transatlantic cooperation will be enhanced only if the US dictates less what Europe's response should be, and instead sits down to more fully understand Europe's sense of facing a new threat.
"There is now on the other side of the Atlantic a better sense of the urgency of the threat, and our convergence of views should mean a better opportunity to work together against the threat," says Simon Serfaty, a global security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Noting the differences that linger, he adds, "It doesn't mean we must do everything together, but that together we can do everything."