Doughboys head home (JERUSALEM POST Article)

August 18th, 2004  

Topic: Doughboys head home (JERUSALEM POST Article)

I came accross this on another site, and I thought the article really stood out. I would think a number of people here would agree, as I know I do.

Doughboys head home


'We won't come back 'til it's over/Over there!" sang America's doughboys, marching off to war in 1917. In the Second World War, they had other songs to sing, which is just as well because even though the World War was over over there 60 years ago, and the Cold War was over 15 years ago, only now are the Yanks heading home.

In the largest military realignment in years, Washington plans to withdraw 70,000 troops plus 100,000 family members and support personnel from overseas US bases. That means, for the most part, from Europe.

This will undoubtedly be welcome news to the likes of Goran Persson, the Swedish prime minister, who famously declared that the purpose of the European Union is that "it's one of the few institutions we can develop as a balance to US world domination." It must surely be awfully embarrassing to be the first superpower in history to be permanently garrisoned by your principal rival superpower.

But it's also grand news for those of us who've long argued that America's six-decade security guarantee to Europe has been a massive strategic error. The basic flaw in the Atlantic "alliance" is that, for almost all its participants, the free world is a free lunch: a defense pact of wealthy nations in which only one guy picks up the tab. I said as much in a Canadian column I wrote on 9/11, and a few weeks later the Dominion's deputy prime minister, John Manley, conceded that his country was dining in the best restaurants without paying its way. As he put it, "You can't just sit at the G8 table and then, when the bill comes, go to the washroom."

But in NATO, for generations, whenever the bill's come, there's been a stampede to the washroom, not just by the Canadians but the Continentals, too. Like any other form of welfare, defense welfare is a hard habit to break and profoundly damaging to the recipient. The peculiarly obnoxious character of modern Europe is a logical consequence of Washington's willingness to absolve it of responsibility for its own security. The eminent military historian John Keegan once wrote that "without armed forces, a state does not exist." That's true in a certain sense. But in another, for wealthy nations who've found a sugar daddy, it's marvelously liberating. You're able to preen and pose on the world stage, secure in the knowledge that nobody expects you to do anything about it.

BRET STEPHENS, this newspaper's editor, noted as much when he opened his mail the other day and found a copy of something called "Conclusions of the European Council," a summary of the work done during the six months of the Irish Euro-presidency. Unlike 99 percent of recipients, he made the mistake of reading it, at least as far as item 80: "The European Council expresses its deep concern at the recent events in the Eastern Congo, which could jeopardize the transition process."

Been following that one? Europe is free to flaunt its "concern" and even its "deep concern" over the Eastern Congo precisely because it's entirely irrelevant to events in the Eastern Congo. As our editor points out, European countries now have attitudes in inverse proportion to the likelihood of their acting upon them. They're like my hippy-dippy Vermont neighbors who drive around with "FREE TIBET" bumper stickers. Every couple of years, they trade in the Volvo for a Subaru and painstakingly paste a new "FREE TIBET" sticker on the back.

What are they doing to free Tibet? Nothing. Tibet is as unfree now as it was when they started advertising their commitment to a free Tibet. And it will be just as unfree when they buy their next car and slap on the old sticker one mo' time. If Don Rumsfeld were to say, "'Free Tibet'? That's a great idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday," all the "FREE TIBET" crowd would be driving around with "WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER" stickers.

When entire nations embrace self-congratulatory holier-than-thou moral poseurdom as a way of life, it's even less attractive. The Belgians weren't half as insufferable when they were the German army's preferred shortcut to France.

For the purposes of the preceding racist generalization, I should explain that I'm semi-Belgian, but I'm happy to apply the same point to many countries with which I lack consanguinity. At Friday's Olympics ceremony, for example, I noticed the team from liberated Afghanistan drew far more enthusiastic cheers from the Athens crowd than the team of the country that actually liberated them. Fair enough. But what, then, is the practical value of their professed support for the Afghans? At the time of the Afghan liberation, a poll found that only 5.2% of Greeks supported the war.

A wealthy continent liberated from the burdens of military expenditure is also liberated to a large degree from reality.

Poor peoples have no choice but to live in the real world: if a drought wipes out their crops, they starve. Likewise, rich, powerful nations have traditionally required great vigilance to maintain their wealth and power. But Europe increasingly resembles those insulated celebrities being shuttled around town from one humanitarian gala to another like Barbra Streisand flying in by private jet to discuss excessive energy consumption with president Clinton.

The US security umbrella, along with the Eurovision Song Contest, was really the prototype pan-European institution. The Americans helped build a continent in which you could sing "Waterloo" rather than fight it and, if in their excessive generosity they accelerated an inclination to softness and decadence, well, it's not their problem.

For the wars of the future, it makes sense to rely on ad hoc "lily pads" old colonial bases in the Horn of Africa or Soviet bases in Central Asia. The EU, meanwhile, has challenges of its own; and in the coming clash between a shrinking secularized Euro-elite and its swelling Islamist populations, it's not clear whether, as James Baker would say, America has a dog in that fight. The only question for the Continent is whether it's over over there in a more profound sense than those singing doughboys ever contemplated.
August 21st, 2004  
Sgt. Nick Fury
The Belgians weren't half as insufferable when they were the German army's preferred shortcut to France.


EU, meanwhile, has challenges of its own; and in the coming clash between a shrinking secularized Euro-elite and its swelling Islamist populations, it's not clear whether, as James Baker would say, America has a dog in that fight.

I have a feeling we will have a dog in that fight. Like it or not. But for all the rhetoric, and name calling across the Atlantic. Everyone knows that we'll be freakin there for them. Family is Family even when ungrateful. We remain a "western" nation.