Christian Whiton, in an op-ed for Fox News‘ online outlet, espoused a large retrenchment and withdrawal of the US (he couched it in terms of withdrawal of our troops only) from Europe and the Middle East. In one region, though, he’s badly mistaken and goes much too far (he’s mistaken in the other areas, too, but this really stands out).
The president should turn our military bases in Europe over to our NATO allies and withdraw most US troops.
We have kept troops in Europe since World War II, and that war ended 73 years ago. Our European bases have been obsolete since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and they’ve been of no use to us in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Why should US troops defend Germany, for example, where polls show only 30% of Germans have a favorable view of America? On top of that, Germany treats us unfairly on trade, fabricates anti-American news, and is rich enough to defend itself.
No, we should not withdraw most of our troops from Europe.
It’s certainly true that many of those bases have been useless to our efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria, but the claim ignores two simple facts: NATO never was designed—or repurposed—to support anything other than a Warsaw Pact (actually, a Soviet Union) invasion of Western Europe. Secondly the purpose mismatch would disappear if Whiton got his wish and we withdrew our troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
However, it’s also true (though elided in the op-ed) that many of those bases have been used as staging areas for operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, many of our NATO allies have, and are, participating in those efforts—including a NATO contingent in Afghanistan—and several of those bases have been critical in dealing with combat casualties on their evacuations from the combat zones (Landstuhl comes to mind).
To an extent, though, the bases have become obsolete, although not necessarily in the Trumpian economic sense (and the NATO allies are moving more effectively to redress that than they did with the prior administration’s efforts). No, with modern war capabilities, especially including missile and cyber war, the bases have become targets—as have the (too few) locations for forward basing of replacement equipment and ammunition.
The premise that Germany treats us unfairly in trade is arguably true (though we would do well to get rid of LBJ’s chicken war tariff on German light trucks), but it’s irrelevant. Defense isn’t about international trade; it’s about a nation’s or a region’s physical security. That Germany engages in anti-American fake news also is irrelevant: all journalist industries have their liars and fakers; this, too, has nothing to do with defense.
Germany, and several of the other countries in European NATO, certainly are rich enough to contribute more to their own and to the common effort (on which, see above), but as the last centuries’ wars demonstrated, Germany is not ” rich enough to defend itself.” They don’t have the population to man the numbers of equipment—tanks, heavy guns, infantry—to face down the currently resurgent Russian threat—which is actively tactical, nuclear, and cyber. To face that down requires a coalition effort.
It’s also true, though, as Whiton pointed out, that Germans don’t want us there anymore. Absent hard data, I speculate that several of the other NATO member nations think we’ve outstayed our welcome, also.
Works for me.
But rather than withdrawing from Europe altogether, we should reallocate.
Keep in mind that at violently acquisitive and heavily armed Russia is actively threatening non-Russian Europe: it already has partitioned and occupied Georgia, and it’s in the process of doing the same with Ukraine (it has occupied Crimea, and it’s moving actively to consolidate its occupation of eastern Ukraine and to expand those holdings). It has engaged in cyber war with each of the Baltic State nations, and it is stirring up the Russian populations in those nations, potentially prelude to a modern-day Anschluss. It has abrogated the Intermediate Range Missile Treaty, an action that led President Donald Trump to formally withdraw us from it, and it as moved other tactical nuclear weapons close to its western border and into Kaliningrad, from which it can strike with nuclear strength most of western Europe. It is in late-stage development of hypersonic nuclear weapons as it moves to vastly upgrade all of its nuclear forces. It has begun harassing and interfering with civilian shipment into the Sea of Azov and the Baltic Sea (and with Ukrainian military shipments into the former). And on and on.
Reallocate our politics as well as our defense forces. Eastern European nations are only newly freed from the Soviet Union’s yoke, and they remember well the nature of Soviet boots on their necks. They do clearly understand the threat actively presented by Russia today as it seeks—in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own words—to restore the old Soviet Union empire.
Without walking away from NATO—it still has its uses—we should form a new mutual defense alliance with those eastern European nations: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Moldova. It would be useful to see if Finland, Sweden, and Norway would be interested, along with Denmark and Great Britain. Then we should withdraw most of our troops from European NATO—which is, generally, western Europe, and which nations have forgotten what it’s like to live under rapacious tyranny—and shift them to those eastern European nations. And base them in a much more dispersed manner, as well as thoroughly dispersing the forward based resupply facilities.