Sorry for the insensitive headline but my father was a combat infantry officer in Europe in World War II. While the British used the genteel "Jerry" for the Germans and the average Soviet foot soldier employed the surprisingly comradely "Fritz," the Yanks whose youth was interrupted to destroy the Nazis employed the all-American bluntness above.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is preparing to rotate more forces to Europe to "deter" Russia. Why is this our problem? The European Union has the largest economy in the world yet most NATO members spend a diminishing amount on defense. German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears serene in the face of Russia's new assertiveness. Indeed, Germany's armed forces continue to shrink.
If there's a problem from Russia, it should belong to the prosperous, democratic Europe, and especially Germany, that was created by American blood and, in the Cold War, steadfastness.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced he will triple down on austerity, which will mean shrinking the Royal Navy lower than its already historic diminished size. In other words, Britain and the entire EU are more than ever free riders on the American taxpayers who fund the U.S. Navy to keep the global sea lanes safe and open.
Regular readers of this column know that I am baffled by our continuing efforts to antagonize Russia: extending NATO too close to the borders of a nation that has suffered repeated invasions, helping unseat an elected president in Ukraine, failing to recognize Russia's legitimate national interests. Every time we try to "get tough" with Vladimir Putin, we make him more popular at home. The man who stands against the disorder of the West and protects Mother Russia, a great, indeed exceptional nation. This, at least, is how most Russians see it.
On the other side of the globe, we are trying to contain a rising China that declines to be contained. This is a trickier situation, one for another column, but mere bellicosity is not a strategy. One needed change should be obvious: Pull the more than 29,000 U.S. troops out of South Korea. Seoul not only enjoys a robust economy and armed forces but has the friendship of Beijing. China has said it would "not allow" a war on the Korean Peninsula. Problem solved.
We continue to fight undeclared wars in the Middle East. Will Barry and Bibi mend fences? Who gives a damn? With low oil prices, fracking, and the need to keep most carbon in the ground to avert a climate catastrophe, we should abandon the Carter Doctrine. Why should wags be able to say that Saudi Arabia's national anthem is Onward Christian Soldiers, based on the brutal kingdom's hold on Uncle Sucker as its protector? As for Iraq and Syria, we stepped into a sectarian feud that goes back to the seventh century — and made things worse. As our Front Page Editor, with considerable experience in the region, says, "Bloods and Crips. Give them a few generations to fight it out and check back."
He also says much of our global defense strategy is merely there to enrich arms makers and ensure the brass has enough private golf courses on which to play. While cynical, this carries more than a whiff of truth. How else do we end up with the exorbitant catastrophe that is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the pride of Luke Air Force Base and unable to even outfight an old F-16?
Yet ideology is also at work. As a neocon put it to author Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." The center has moved so far to the right that Democrats feel compelled to be "tough," as well.
The problem is that even an empire can't be everywhere at once. Empire is exhausting and expensive — people forget that Russia was a driving force behind the breakup of the Soviet Union because Russians were sick of paying for the red empire, even the empire of Catherine the Great. Empires do especially badly when they choose to fight peers or near peers — World War I took down four of them and nearly bled the British to death, too.
One can argue persuasively that the United States created a continental empire in the 19th century. But worldwide empire — being the world police — is beyond our means. It is deeply toxic to the Constitution and our republican form of government. And the money would be better spent at home. "Military Keynesianism" doesn't get near the (forgive me) bang for the buck as real Keynesianism and investment in America.
So, some modest proposals:
- Disband NATO. The Cold War is over. If there's trouble in Europe, Germany, France, the UK and other European nations have more than the means to address it. Let the Krauts defend Europe.
- Quit building up Putin by playing his rope-a-dope. We are not Russia's enemy nor is she ours (to use a sexist, classic construction).
- Stop micromanaging the Middle East, including proxy wars, drone wars, and massive arms sales to the Israelis, Saudis, and Egyptians.
- Repeal the Patriot Act and break up the Department of Homeland Security.
- Kick ass, crack heads, and do whatever else it takes to fix our broken and unconscionably expensive defense procurement system.
- Rebuild a strong 21st century Navy that can be, as a book title put it, the shield of the republic and capable of protecting our legitimate interests. Invest in other needed weapons and troop levels — but not at a level required to aspire as the world police.
Today in 1989, crowds began dismantling the Berlin Wall. It was a majestic validation of the American policy carried out for two generations by both political parties, albeit not without missteps. Then, a quarter century of America as the sole superpower (in which our prowess in the First Gulf War was a terrifying wake-up call to the People's Liberation Army). But all this was then.
We are in a new era. This is reality. If Washington doesn't recognize it, we will face some bloody and potentially disastrous reality checks.