By Fatos Tarifa
The announcement several days ago Albania -- a small country with limited resources -- was sending an additional 50 well-trained troops to Iraq came as a surprise to some observers. But it really should not have surprised anyone.
Albania was one of only four countries to send combat troops during the operation "Iraqi Freedom." Albania is probably the most pro-American country on Earth. It showed its support of the United States early, when it initially sent 70 commandos to join the Coalition of the Willing's effort to bring peace, stability and free elections to Iraq. These new troops bring to a total of 120 Albanian soldiers serving in Iraq.
From a country with only 3.5 million people, the troops -- the flower of Albania's youth -- represent the best Albania has to offer. Why does Albania do this when it could have avoided President Bush's call for support, or when it could have dropped out as others have done when the going got tough? The answer is not difficult to find. If you believe in freedom, you believe in fighting for it. If you believe in fighting for freedom, you believe in America.
Unlike people in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, the Albanian people have not forgotten what it is like to live under tyranny and repression. The Albanians for more than 40 years were held in thrall by the repressive forces of the communists, living like prisoners without rights in their own country. It was to the United States that freedom-loving Albanians looked for inspiration during those dark years, and the Americans have not let us down.
"We Albanians are a nation of freedom fighters who know something about living under oppression," Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano wrote in a letter to President Bush. "That is why we wholeheartedly support the American-led effort to free the people of Iraq. And though we are a small country with a small military, we are proud to stand side by side with our allies in the fight to end the reign of terror in Baghdad."
Europe is a small place and it is hard not to run into history there. It is also hard to avoid the historic contributions of the United States in the defense of freedom and liberty on the Continent. There are cemeteries throughout Europe -- in France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg -- containing the remains of American soldiers who died in battle to free Europe in two world wars.
Although it is not fashionable to talk about it, the face of Europe would indeed be much different today were it not for the Americans who died storming the Normandy beaches.
Were it not for the Americans, there is a good chance there would be no France, nor a United Kingdom nor a Belgium, as we know them today. Were it not for the United States it also is very possible no Balkan countries would be free.
Upon committing Albania to the Coalition of the Willing, Prime Minister Nano urged his fellow European leaders to visit Normandy "to see for themselves what the United States has been willing to undertake in the name of freedom. We should all visit Normandy. We should pay homage to those brave Americans who stormed ashore at Omaha Beach and gave their lives for the freedom of others. The wonder of it is that the Americans are willing to do it again," Mr. Nano said.
And of course, it was the U.S.-led effort of NATO to rein in Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo that proved to the world that, in the name of freedom, the United States was willing to fight for the freedom of the oppressed, regardless of religious belief.
So it is with Iraq. The importance of the American-led effort to liberate Iraq and establish a democratic government for the first time in this country's history cannot be underestimated. It is not the first time the United States has faced suicide bombers trapped in a cult of death. The Japanese kamikazes sought to do to the Americans toward the end of World War II what the terrorists are attempting in Iraq today. The kamikazes failed then, the terrorists will fail now. Japan became a democracy and so will Iraq.
The difference between the United States and the Islamic terrorists is this: The terrorists export death. The Americans export freedom.
The surprise is not in Albania's decision to send more troops to fight for freedom in Iraq. The surprise would have been if Albania did not.
Fatos Tarifa is the ambassador of Albania to the United States.