Americans are in need of a wakeup call. Before we go the way of Greece, we must come to grips with the looming debt crisis.
Unfortunately, as it stands, the majority appears to be fundamentally unserious about taking the required measures to steer this nation off of its currently unsustainable course. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in April, most Americans oppose making the necessary cuts to entitlements, which make up roughly half of all federal expenditures. Most people favor cutting spending in general terms, but when asked about specific programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, their opposition grows fierce. Nobody wants to cut programs they benefit from, but soon enough they won’t have a choice.
Even Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan which would add $6 trillion to the national debt over the next decade was considered too “extreme” and failed in the Senate. It is the status quo which truly defines extremity. Pres. Obama’s budget will add $13 trillion of additional debt over the next decade on top of the $14 trillion we currently owe. Everyone understands that spending and borrowing into the abyss is an unwise policy for personal finances; why this same understanding fails to make headway on a federal level is beyond me.
Due to the inability of the electorate to grasp the severity of the situation, it is important to focus in on making cuts that enjoy a wide spectrum of support. One such proposal is to close overseas military bases in both Europe and Asia.
The policies of Washington do not reflect the reality in Europe. The Cold War ended over two decades ago, and out of the ashes of WWII, Europe has become relatively wealthy again. The EU’s GDP surpasses that of the United States; it is high time the Europeans begin paying for their own defense.
In his final speech before he stepped down in June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a blunt assessment of NATO, “There will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” The frustrations expressed by Gates are supported by the sheer dollar count. According to the New York Times, the United States accounts for about “three-quarters of total military spending by all NATO countries.” Americans pay for seventy-five percent of the costs for an organization made up of 28 member states. The one-sidedness of the alliance is nothing less than a scandal.
This policy of coddling the Europeans has also allowed them to allocate funding elsewhere. According to Andrew M. Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a military research organization, “The Europeans enjoy generous social welfare programs in part because the United States subsidizes their defense spending.” The unfortunate news for all of us is the good times are over. America can no longer afford to pay the bills of Europe; they must grow up.
In a recent interview of David Hannan appearing on Uncommon Knowledge, Peter Robinson paraphrased the late Irving Kristol to summarize the problem succinctly, “Our spending a lot of money and having troops in Europe made sense when Europe was still recovering after the Second World War. But these are all rich countries now. We are infantilizing them. We should bring our troops home and let the Europeans… defend themselves because we must not cocoon them from reality. Let them encounter reality itself.”
Many conservatives are apprehensive about scaling back American military presence abroad. But what could be more satisfying than ending subsidies to ungrateful Europeans? Those incessant critics of American foreign policy would finally be forced to pull their own weight.
East Asia is in the same state of affairs. The majority of American military personnel stationed in Japan reside on the island of Okinawa, where the residents grow increasingly opposed to the occupation. The soldiers there are not meeting any strategic purpose, but to fulfill an outdated obligation of defense which the Japanese are certainly capable of doing so themselves. Japan has the third largest economy. They are more than able to deal with the existential threat of North Korea, and a rising China.
In South Korea, 28,500 U.S. troops remain to enforce the armistice between the North and South. This presence of forces may have been necessary over half a century ago, but this is no longer the case today. South Korea’s economy is 24 times larger than its arch nemesis to the North, and it is home to 20 million more people. The balance of power is clearly in South Korea’s favor.
The world has certainly changed since the fall of the Soviet Union; it’s time for policymakers in the United States to reflect this change. Before Americans make the inevitably difficult choices of cutting domestic spending, we should take a second look at our installments overseas and ask ourselves if they are truly necessary.