By:Jim Jatras | March 24, 2016
This week Donald Trump ignited another furor, this time for asking the simple question of whether America’s commitment to NATO is worth it. The following day, Brussels was hit by jihad terror attacks.
Johnny on the spot, Senator Ted Cruz accused Trump of surrendering to ISIS and to Putin in the face of the Brussels attacks. How Putin is responsible for Brussels, or how the attacks relate to NATO—an alliance mobilized against a USSR that went defunct a quarter century ago—is anyone’s guess.
The following day, the Washington Post—house organ of the liberal interventionist establishment—hit the same theme: Trump’s “radical isolationism” is to blame.
Contra Cruz and the Post, the fact is, Donald Trump, and only Donald Trump, is calling for shutting the door on what made Brussels possible: barring Muslim migrants until “we can figure out what the hell is going on.” If Europe is unwilling to do that, these attacks will continue and escalate. And America can look forward to the same if we don’t start taking Trump’s advice.
NATO made sense when the alliance was formed in 1949 to defend a devastated and impoverished Europe against Stalin, who had communized all of Eastern Europe. During Senate ratification, one of the clinching arguments was that it would last only a few years, until Europe got back on its feet. When future president Dwight D. Eisenhower took command of NATO in 1951, he said: “If in ten years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defense purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed.”
Now, almost seven decades later, with a Europe more populous and richer than the U.S., European freeloaders still depend on the US. According to the WSJ in 2014, “The U.S. accounts for about 73% of the roughly $1 trillion in total military spending by NATO countries each year.” It’s not getting better. Of NATO’s 28 member countries, only four others besides the U.S. (the UK, Estonia, Greece, and Poland) spend more than the targeted two percent of GDP on defense. (And Greece does only out of fear of its fellow NATO “ally” Turkey.)
Even worse, NATO has become a vehicle for mischief that doesn’t advance American security but undermines it. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to strut his stuff in 2011 in support of his reelection bid (he lost anyway), he called on NATO (meaning the U.S.) to do the heavy lifting for “regime change” in Libya. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton gladly obliged him. The result: Hillary’s Benghazi debacle and a failed state that’s become a terrorist playground.
Even more dangerously, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has been playing “chicken” with the Russians in Syria. Why? So that if in his zeal to support jihad terrorist forces in Syria he gets into a tussle with the Russians, he can call on NATO (meaning us) to bail him out. Even Obama has been smart enough not to fall for that.
Still more perilous is the fact that with its 1998 and 2004 expansions, NATO has taken in former Warsaw Pact countries and the former Baltic republics of the USSR—places we have no hope of defending except with the use of nuclear weapons. Under NATO’s Article 5 guarantee, an attack on one is an attack on all. How many Americans are willing to risk a nuclear strike on, say, New York or Chicago to defend Tallinn or Riga?And now some, including Hillary, want to extend those guarantees further afield, to Ukraine and Georgia.
And Trump should not even ask whether or how any of this makes Americans more secure or prosperous?
When NATO was first expanded in 1998, only a few brave Americans stood against it. One was conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly. She wrote then that “Western Europe, which has grown wealthy on U.S. handouts over the past 50 years, is today's ‘welfare queen.’ The Senate should terminate welfare for foreigners now.” Well, the Senate didn’t take her advice, and the European welfare queen has totted up 20 more years of sandbagging the U.S. taxpayer. (Note that Trump has also questioned security welfare to Japan and South Korea.)
Schlafly also warned that the treaty to expand NATO would commit “us to permanent involvement in foreign conflicts. It should be called Clinton's Go-To-War Treaty.” We should have listened to her. As night follows day, expanding NATO was followed by Kosovo (1999), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), Syria (ongoing). What do Americans have to show for the trillions of dollars wasted?
Donald Trump has not even said (yet) that we should pull out of NATO but just consider ways we might make our participation more cost-effective. The hysteria with which his modest suggestion simply to “rethink” a commitment that was never meant to be eternal should be a clue. What is it that the NATOphile crowd fear will not survive scrutiny? If NATO is such a great deal for the United States, they should be happy for the attention. The fact that they demand no thinking allowed when it comes to NATO speaks volumes.
Jim Jatras, a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram. Tweet him at @JimJatras.