The U.S. is a wreck. Streets are filled with protesters. Neighborhoods are looted and burned. Extremists seized city hall and the surrounding neighborhood in the progressive city of Seattle. American politics is hyper-partisan, divided and hostile, even hateful.
The economic decline remains at depression levels, with major cities only now loosening shutdowns. Many small businesses have closed for good and the survival of even some large firms is in doubt. Washington will be borrowing more than $4 trillion this year and $2 trillion next year – and those numbers likely will increase after another bailout bill expected next month.
But what has official Washington most upset is the president’s plan to bring 9,500 US troops home from Germany by September.
The foreign policy establishment has gone, excuse the phrase, bat-shit crazy. You would think a Satanist cult had taken over the National Cathedral. Or the Prohibitionist Party had won the presidency. Or members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had declared they were joining a pacifist cult and dissolving the US military.
In a brilliant example of projection, Jim Townsend, one of the former somebodies who fills Washington, declared: "The Administration has just lost its mind." Actually, it is members of the foreign policy establishment, known as the Blob, who agree on intervention everywhere all the time, with disagreement confined to trivialities, who have collectively lost both their professional composure and mental stability. Veritable hysteria has overwhelmed the gaggle of usually staid and composed lawmakers, think tankers, staffers, security consultants, and pundits.
A "disastrous mistake" screamed Bloomberg’s editors. The move threatens "an even bigger catastrophe" and "would imperil America’s relationships and alliances everywhere." A matter of "pique" and "petulance," intoned establishment paladin George Will. The move is "dangerous," warned Philip Gordon. Ben Hodges denounced the move as a "colossal mistake" and "purely political." The usually loquacious war hawk Jim Inhofe simply expressed disbelief.
The decision reflects a lack of "moral leadership" and "understanding of our national security interests," pontificated Eliot Engel. They were "very concerned," complained GOP House members, who warned of "logistical difficulties." Worse, they hyperventilated, the move would "encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism." Hans Binnendijk said the shift "could undercut a half decade long effort to prevent war" and leave NATO "less well prepared to deal with a nuclear threat."
Kevin Carroll denounced the decision as "appalling" and "destructive and misguided" Succumbing to war fever, he insisted that the redeployment "needlessly risks the lives of our soldiers and airmen," who currently have a "happy" relationship, as if that mattered, with the Germans. "Dangerously misguided," said the ever-hysterical Liz Cheney. (No word, from her father, he of the grand Iraq misadventure.) "Damaging" and "a gift to Vladimir Putin," huffed the Wall Street Journal, advocate of every war America fought and many that it did not. Jack Reed went personal and partisan, calling the troop move "petty and preposterous" as well as "another favor to Putin and leadership failure." The Washington Post, consolidating the imperial city’s many clichés and bromides, opined that the policy was "senseless and vindictive."
Withdrawal would "encourage Russia to be more aggressive" and leave "behind a fractured, more dangerous, less stable world," predicted the ever-alarmed Mac Thornberry. The lugubrious Matthew Continetti concluded that "America sent another signal that its days of global leadership are coming to an end." Hal Brands exuded the horror of a policy wonk scorned, insisting that: "the move is strategically nonsensical, reflects some of the pettiest and most destructive impulses of Trumpism, and reveals the deepening rot in America’s most important European relationship."
Heritage Foundation analysts succumbed to collective hysteria, warning that "This troop reduction would denigrate" efforts to bolster collective security and undercut "transatlantic security moving forward." The move is "unwise" complained Daniel Kochis. A horrified James Jay Carafano insisted that "America would suffer."
NATO "unity is endangered by President Trump’s plan," wailed Janusz Bugajski. But that is just the start of the horrors Bugajski spied for the future: "The White House’s decision threatens to weaken European and American security, provoke disputes between allies, encourage Moscow to escalate its aggression toward its Western neighbors, and to ultimately pull America into a more direct confrontation with Russia."
Surely a new Dark Ages is upon us. It is the conquest of Constantinople all over again, as the lamps go out all over Europe. The barbarians from the east will make their inevitable march on the impoverished, divided, and backward continent, helpless without omnipresent and omniscient American support, direction, aid, guidance, and subsidies. Then the barbarians will reach America’s gates and ultimate collapse will be inevitable. Fini.
Summed up an obviously shell-shocked Binnendijk: "A withdrawal would be a clear signal that Trump is not serious about defending Europe."
Of course, like so much else from Washington, this is simply false, as have been most of the War Party’s criticisms of Trump. The president has not exited one conflict overseas. He has not ended American involvement in one international contest, imbroglio, dispute, entanglement, problem, or disagreement. He has increased troop levels in Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as Europe. He nearly started new wars with Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. He has launched or intensified economic war against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela. And his "withdrawal" from Germany appears to be merely a redeployment to Poland, replacing one foreign welfare dependent with another.
But even if the 9,500 personnel were actually slated to come home, why the hysterical wailing and gnashing of teeth? It is time for members of the NATO forever crowd to answer the question: Why, 70 years after the founding of the transatlantic alliance and 29 years after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, must America still protect Europe? Is there ever a time during the coming millennia or two when they can imagine the US being able to allow the advanced, wealthy, and technologically advanced European nations to organize their own defense?
As originally created, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations did not intend NATO to turn the Europeans into permanent defense dependents of America. James McAllister, author of No Exit: America and the German Problem, called the notion "unthinkable." He added: "American policymakers from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower strenuously tried to avoid having the future of Europe dependent on a permanent US military presence on the continent."
Washington’s intent was clear. According to foreign policy scholar Mark Sheetz: "Postwar American statesmen, such as Kennan, Dulles and Eisenhower, did not want European stability to be permanently dependent on the presence of American forces. They did not want to assume the burden of defending Europe permanently against the Soviet Union, nor did they want to serve permanently as Europe’s protector against a possible resurgence of German power. The purpose of America’s ‘temporary’ intervention in Western Europe was to eliminate the need for ‘permanent’ intervention."
Dwight D. Eisenhower – Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II, first Supreme Commander of NATO, and Cold War US president – was particularly insistent that Washington’s role not be permanent. He declared: "There is no defense for Western Europe that depends exclusively or even materially upon the existence, in Europe, of strong American units. The spirit must be here and the strength must be produced here. We cannot be a modern Rome guarding the far frontiers with our legions if for no other reason than that these are not, politically, our frontiers. What we must do is to assist these people [to] regain their confidence and get on their own military feet."
This made good sense. While America’s presence deters, it also ensures US involvement if deterrence fails. Moreover, Washington’s military guarantee creates negative incentives, most obviously reducing pressure on the Europeans to rearm. That impact was evident throughout the Cold War. Even when threatened by the Soviet Union, European governments broke most every commitment they made to hike military outlays. After all, with Eisenhower long in his grave they were convinced that US troops would never leave.
Unfortunately, the Europeans were right. And if the Blob has its way, US forces never will leave. Ever. Under any circumstances.
"This is not the time to remove American troops," declared Binnendijk. Of course not. It will never be time to leave in the view of Washington’s foreign policy grandees. There is no circumstance that they can imagine that would eliminate the need for an American military presence in Europe. Even if Russia revived its democracy, reeducated its nationalists, dismantled its military, and proclaimed nonviolence its new creed, Blob members would insist that the US had to remain.
After the Second Coming, as the lion lay down with the lamb, Blob members would argue that nothing fundamentally had changed, that no allies could be dropped, no treaties could be severed, no commitments could be ended, and no troops could be withdrawn. Indeed, the usual suspects would insist that this time was precisely the sort of transitional, unstable, and uncertain moment requiring an even greater commitment, with enhanced efforts to "reassure" the allies of America’s enduring presence, lest they feel the slightest insecurity about Washington’s commitment to continue coddling, succoring, cosseting, suckling, pampering, and otherwise indulging the continent.
Why this insistence that America must forever defend its prosperous and populous allies?
Despite their rhetoric, the Europeans realize that the likelihood of a Russian attack is minimal. Which is why there is so little willingness to devote serious resources to the military. Even the Baltic States and Poland, which most vociferously warn of the great threat to the east, devote barely two percent of GDP on the military. If they truly felt threatened, they should spend much more to develop a serious territorial defense to convince Moscow that aggression is not an option worth considering.
However, dependence on America evidently is enervating. Europe’s economy is comparable to America’s. The continent’s population is larger. And the Europeans devote no resources to defend the world: confront North Korea and China in Asia, micro-meddle and nation-build in the Middle East, and dictate and dominate in Latin America. All the Europeans have to do is defend themselves. Against Russia the Europeans have roughly 11 times the GDP and more than three times the population. What is wrong with allowing Europeans to take over responsibility for their own security?
They obviously never will as long as the US does the job for them. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), made the bizarre claim that reducing American force levels "would discourage Europeans from taking a stronger role in their own defense." It is unclear if he believes such nonsense or he merely believes the public can be convinced of such nonsense. Does he apply the same principle to domestic welfare: Washington should increase federal payments since any cuts would discourage welfare recipients from seeking employment? Imagine how his conservative Texas constituents would respond to that argument!
Actually, the Europeans realize that an American refusal to continue defense welfare would leave their security up to them. Which explains why they also are hysterical about Trump’s plan. The British, another longtime defense dependent, are appalled in an appropriately dignified way. For instance, the Financial Times pontificated while republishing many of the feverish platitudes spouted in Washington: "It would be a triple blow – to U.S.-European relations, NATO and the wider idea of the west as an alliance of democracies committed to upholding shared values." The paper’s editors further whined that the proposal is "damaging," "harmful," "unwelcome," and "risks sowing divisions among NATO’s European member states."
Even more disturbed were the Germans, who enjoy a particularly cheap ride courtesy American taxpayers. "Deplorable" and "regrettable" said Norbert Roettgen. The decision would "break down trans-Atlantic bridges" and is "completely unacceptable" declared Peter Beyer. "A purely politically motivated decision," whined Andreas Nick. Neglectful of "basic leadership tasks," insisted Johann Wadephul. Depriving Germany of "deterrent capability," intoned Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff. All this from representatives of a country which spends 1.38 percent of GDP on the military, keeps pushing back the date it promises to hit NATO’s two percent goal, and fails to maintain a ready force. But, remember, according to Thornberry it is America’s fault, the result of US taxpayers not doing enough for their poor, oppressed German brethren!
Decades ago Europe simply decided to leave serious military issues to America. The United Kingdom and France possess real militaries, though barely able to police the colonial worlds they once ran and under severe budget pressure. The other large states, Germany, Italy, and Spain, barely bother to field forces, at least ones capable of serious action. No one else does a lot and many are geopolitical jokes, including the last two membership additions, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Washington keeps using NATO to add new obligations rather than enhance America’s security. Indeed, Blob members treat the alliance like Facebook, determined to collect as many "friends" as possible, irrespective value.
Of course, it is better if the US cooperates with Europe on issues of common interest. But that does not require Washington to turn the Pentagon into a form of international welfare. The American and European governments could act as equals and forge cooperative agreements that provide for emergency base access and consultations over joint action against joint threats.
No doubt, dedicated bases in Germany and elsewhere support American intervention elsewhere. However, that is a dubious benefit. America’s involvement in those fights also deserves to be rethought. Endless wars in the Middle East and Central Asia have had catastrophic consequences, making the US less secure. And it just gets ever worse: Washington now is illegally occupying Syria and its oilfields, while policymakers set fantastical ambitions: ousting Bashar al-Assad, kicking out Iran and Russia, forcing back Turkey, defending a Kurdish state, and perhaps continuing the search for all those moderate insurgents who never materialized during the lengthy civil war. The Afghanistan conflict will never end if members of the Blob have their way. Americans will be in Iraq forever as well, essentially expanding America’s Monroe Doctrine to the Middle East. Then there is Iran, set to be perpetually blockaded, sanctioned, and contained – by the US, of course.
Indeed, the hysterical reaction to a minor readjustment in Europe demonstrates the inability of America’s foreign policy elite – supposedly the best of the best, so much better educated, more sophisticated, and more knowledgeable than President Donald Trump – to set priorities. America must stay in Europe and the Mideast forever even as the US slides into a new cold war with China – which of course will require intensified defense commitments and military deployments throughout the Asia-Pacific.
How, pray tell, will an America facing financial, economic, social, and political crises meet its needs at home while continuing to subsidize all of its rich industrial allies, manage the Middle East’s manifold hostilities, confront all of its friends’ enemies everywhere, and, most seriously, take on the emerging Chinese-Russian alliance, encouraged by America’s ever sharper hostility toward both of them? This is an irresponsible, dangerous, even mad policy.
Of course, the Trump administration has handled what is a minor withdrawal from Germany badly. Surely that surprises no one, however. What has it done well? At least the president’s decision makes sense. Indeed, John M. Schuessler and Joshua R. Shifrinson, both at Texas A&M, see continuity in Trump’s approach: "In other words, policy makers should balance the natural urge to reassure others about the firmness of American commitments with subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) reminders that exit remains an option, just as they did with NATO in the early Cold War and as the Trump administration is arguably doing now."
Yes. Leaving NATO is an option, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the nation’s capital.
Expansive security guarantees are costly. The primary expense is not basing units overseas but creating them in the first place. Force structure is necessary to ensure that military commitments are empty. Make lots of global commitments and declare them all to be de facto permanent, and your imperial foreign policy is expensive despite the absence of obvious and direct threats against the US If Washington ends up in a great war in the coming decades, it very likely will be over an ally’s rather than American’s interests or territory. And will be something they could have protected against.
Foreign policy and military force structure should depend on circumstances. If the world changes, so should America’s role in it. In Europe there is unquestionable good news: The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact are gone, the continent has recovered from World War II and become one, and Russia has shrunk from ideological superpower to a far less dangerous traditional great power. Which means Europeans rather than Americans should provide for Europe’s defense.
Donald Trump tends to drive people to hysteria, usually for good reason. In this case, however, he proposed to do the right thing, though much more remains to be done. The Washington foreign policy establishment should worry more about confronting America’s uncertain future than salving Europe’s delicate sensibilities.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.