In Istanbul, Jacques Chirac, in fine French style, gave the wet mitten to the face of the president of the United States.
After President Bush had carried out the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, as demanded by Old Europe, Chirac gave the “Non!” to French or NATO troops to help train the new army. Chirac then rebuffed the Bush request for NATO troops to protect the Afghan people, as they hold their first free elections this September.
“What Alliance?” bellowed The Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial. “If that’s all the help the U.S. can get from our partners, it may be time to rethink the underlying premise of this ‘alliance.'”
Yes, indeed, it may be time.
After demonstrating how stingy are French-German contributions to collective security Europe does the collecting, Uncle Sam provides the security the Journal rendered this summation:
“For the (last) 60 years, American taxpayers footed most of the bill to protect Europe, most recently deploying forces to stop the Balkan wars. Somehow, Europeans appear to believe Americans will continue doing this indefinitely, regardless of European behavior and attitudes. They are badly mistaken.”
Fine words. But the Journal is bluffing, and Chirac and Europe know it. The U.S. military is not going to stop subsidizing NATO. U.S. generals in Brussels enjoy playing proconsul too much. And ever since John Foster Dulles angrily threatened an “agonizing reappraisal” of the U.S. commitment to the continent, 50 years ago, Europeans have come to see American threats to pack up and depart as so much bluster and bluff.
How do we know the Journal is engaged in bluster? Logic. The Journal champions U.S. interventions to tutor the Arab and Islamic world in democracy. It supports preemptive strikes and preventive wars on rogue states to deny them weapons of mass destruction. It believes in an America that is the world’s policeman, who prevents, repels and punishes aggression, wherever it occurs.
You cannot play Globocop without having precinct houses all over the world. And that is the American role the Journal supports.
Europe understands that the United States keeps troops there less for its benefit than for our own purposes. They know we Americans want to play empire, that we need them more than they need us, and that they can continue to get by freeloading off U.S. defense, as most of them the Brits and Turks excepted have been doing for decades.
Fifteen years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down, the great anti-communist coalition that had persevered through the Cold War broke apart over foreign policy. Some of us argued then as the Journal argues today.
With the “evil empire” having collapsed, Eastern Europe free, the Red Army heading home and the Soviet Union breaking up into 15 nations, the need for NATO or any massive U.S. presence in Europe was history. We urged Bush 41 to close our bases, bring U.S. forces home and deed NATO over to the Europeans. Had we done so, Old Europe would be a more manly and self-reliant continent today.
The reasons we gave then are the reasons the Journal gives today. Only when U.S. troops are heading home will our dependents in Europe begin to build the forces to protect their own interests. They will be easy riders as long as we let them.
If the United States lets lapse Article V of the NATO treaty, whereby an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all, Europe would be forced to look to its own security. And as Europe is as populous and rich as we, and has two nuclear powers, why not let them go, even as parents, at some point, must let their kids stand on their own two feet?
Indeed, the drawdown of U.S. forces from Europe since 1990, from 300,000 to fewer than 100,000, suggests that we know there is no real threat to the continent to justify a huge U.S. presence. As for a revanchist Russia, why would Moscow reoccupy an Eastern Europe it had just given up as too costly to maintain and hold?
Handing NATO over to the Europeans would not mean an abandonment of Europe, or American isolationism. All it would mean is that we restore to ourselves the full freedom of action to decide when, where and whether we should fight and we put that grave decision in the hands of the generation that would have to do the fighting, not leave it to Acheson, Dulles and statesmen dead, lo, these 50 years.
The sobering experience in Iraq is causing second thoughts on the right. If these thoughts include an overdue questioning as to who benefits from U.S. commitments to defend every nation in Europe, and who pays, we are at the beginning of wisdom. As for the Journal editorial writers, they are welcome at the next gathering of America First.