America First and Internationalism

Can these policies co-exist?                                    

By Dr. Larry Fedewa (July 14, 2019)

There has been a strain of missionary zeal in American foreign policy since the colonial days and it raises its head every once in a while even today. Perhaps it is the shadow of our Puritan heritage. On the one hand, the moral dilemma of slavery has poisoned our national conscience since the beginning and still haunts us today even after we suffered an estimated 650,000 casualties in the most costly war in our history in an effort to right this wrong. On the other hand, Americans have felt constrained to “save the world for democracy” through the foreign wars of the 20th century and the challenges of Islamic terrorism in our own time.

The belief that “America is the last, best hope for freedom”, as President Reagan put it, has formed one of the foundations of our foreign policy for the past 100 years. That belief carried us into two world wars and all the nearly constant stream of wars ever since in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It has defined “America’s place in the world order” as the advocate and defender of personal freedom and at least some form of social justice. It has also established the USA as the underwriter of all these efforts in both blood and treasure.

The doctrine of “America first” is seen by the foreign policy establishment both here and abroad not as a modification but rather as a rejection of America’s mission in world history. Properly understood, however, America first is not a rejection of this internationalism because it also assumes that every other country will – and does – put its own interests first. In this calculus, the issue becomes “what is America’s interest?” The conclusion of the Trump doctrine is that America has a national debt of $22 Trillion and can no longer afford to bear the nearly entire cost of  the elaborate military structure which we created during the Cold War. This does not seem unreasonable in view of the fact that the members of our alliances in Europe and Asia are in general wealthy enough to support their own defense.

The rub is that most of these countries are governed by some form of socialism and thus their costs are very high compared to the USA. Many have significant national debts of their own. This in addition to the fact that no one wants to give up a free ride voluntarily. So what leverage does the USA have to counter this resistance? The obvious threat is that freeloaders will no longer be welcome in the alliance. As far as we know, no one has suggested such an action, but the fact is that this is an implicit sanction. The Joe Biden’s of the world – along with many others – consider this approach heresy. It goes against the received wisdom of the post-war policies which won the Cold War.

There are strange reactions among our “allies”. For example, the purpose of NATO is the defense of Europe against possible invasion by Russia. To support that policy, the USA has stationed 10,000 troops and billions of dollars’ worth of equipment in Germany – mostly funded by US taxpayers – since 1946. Germany now imports about 40% of its natural gas and 30% of its coal from Russia. To augment this supply chain, Germany has agreed to let Russia build the Nord Stream Pipeline for natural gas. This will increase the dependence of Germany on Russia for natural gas – extent unknown. The impact of this move is that, in case of war – or the threat of war – Germany might well be held hostage by the shut-off of all Russian energy exports. This in direct defiance of US objections. This act calls into question the very essence of NATO.Another example is the French entertaining a proposal to “go it alone”, and drop out of NATO, thus reviving Charles De Gaulle’s longtime refusal to join NATO in the first place. Along with the UK, Germany and France are the largest members of NATO. President Trump has been widely criticized by the establishment for alienating our allies. But, if the Germans and the French are willing to dump NATO, one wonders why we are spending all this money to keep it going?

The bottom line is simply this: every country takes actions based on its perception of its own interests. For the Americans to do the same thing is only common sense. It is time that America faces reality and acts in the interests of the American people – not the so-called mission to save the world for freedom or any other such idealistic, and unrealistic, goal – no matter how worthy it sounds. Time to put America first!

 

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