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Deadbeat Allies Inadvertently Endorse Trump

The world cowers in fear at the prospect of a president who puts American interests first.

(Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock)

Every time Donald Trump’s poll ratings rise, foreign capitals fill with wailing and gnashing of teeth, mostly America’s alleged allies and partners, as the phrase goes. Hysteria reigns as assorted defense deadbeats, forever dependent on the U.S., perceive a terrible, tragic future in which they will have to—horrors!—protect themselves.

European officials freely admit the obvious, that another four years of President Trump might end their convenient cheap ride. However, they are not the only worriers. Both the Japanese and South Korean governments are demanding reassurance from Washington even as they finally invest more in their defense, because they fear Trump might return and withdraw U.S. forces from their nations. Middle East partners—none are formal treaty allies—also constantly complain and cavil at the slightest indication that Washington is considering no longer putting those countries' interests first, before those of the American people.


Ironically, Trump achieved little in ending this internationalist scam during his first term, being ill-served by many of his appointees, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who represented the enduring foreign policy establishment rather than the interests of the American people. Worse were active political saboteurs, such as Ambassador James Jeffrey, a “Never Trumper” mysteriously entrusted with policy in Syria, who advanced his contrary personal agenda while misleading the president.

Trump began to take the appointment process seriously only as his first term approached its end, choosing people who shared his vision. Examples included TAC Senior Fellow Douglas MacGregor as ambassador to Germany and American Ideas Institute Director Will Ruger as ambassador to Afghanistan, though neither was confirmed before the 2020 election. (MacGregor ended up at the Pentagon for a short stint instead.)

The beneficiaries of America’s international largesse celebrated the victory of Joe Biden, who had spent a half century putting them first. The Biden administration met expectations, appearing determined to act like an international weakling rather than a global superpower, begging other nations to let us defend them and promising that the U.S. will always be there, no matter how little they do on their own behalf.

For instance, Washington is pouring far more money and weapons into Ukraine than is the rest of NATO, even though the Europeans have far more at stake in the conflict. Last fall featured President Joe Biden fist-bumping Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, promising to continue using American troops as royals' bodyguards even as Riyadh cut oil supplies and raised oil prices. No insult was too great for Biden to accept.

Last week Biden abased himself to convince the South Koreans that he would risk the American homeland to defend Seoul. His fear? That the Republic of Korea might develop its own nuclear weapons. It is not obvious why Americans should put their own cities at risk rather than allow the ROK to create its own deterrent, which might be useful against China as well. But the foreign policy commentariat was in full war cry, insisting that there was no price too great to pay to safeguard the South so it need not do so itself. Most ROK officials were only too willing to agree, so long as the president and his aides bowed before the principle of extended deterrence, irrespective of actual U.S. interests.


Unsurprisingly, the loudest and most urgent voices raised in fear of the possibility of another Trump term, or election of a Trump acolyte, come from within the foreign policy establishment centered in New York and Washington. Such an event would put many of them out of jobs—especially highly desirable government positions. That would disrupt the rhythm of Blob life, of passing back and forth between public and private sinecures, rising ever higher while sacrificing American interests in the name of affirming American indispensability.

Warning against a revival of Trumpism also has become a full-time preoccupation. Well-practiced at convincing a succession of U.S. administrations to underwrite foreign economies and welfare states, allied officials have added an international accent to horrified warnings against a revival of Trumpism and end of their defense dole. After all, the times are good for America’s allies and partners as the Biden administration rushes to do everything for them. More alliances, more commitments, more money, more assurances, more troops, more and more.

These sentiments are often professed in what amounts to foreign policy performance art, in an endless stream of online productions. Most international webinars inevitably descend into whine-fests. Almost any event concerning America’s defense dependents is guaranteed to feature at least one segment during which participants don sackcloth and wallow in ashes, contemplating a future in which the American people determine U.S. foreign policy.

The formula rarely varies. Washington think-tanks feature a couple foreign usual suspects—minor ministers from important countries, senior ministers from minor-league states, and/or a potpourri of international businessmen, activists, and bureaucrats. Together they plot how to “strengthen relations,” meaning, have Washington spend more money, sacrifice more sovereignty, add more troops, and accept more obligations.

These sessions normally conclude with harmonized wailing about the possibility that the establishment’s wonderful efforts could come to naught if the American people do something really stupid, like elect someone who cares more about their wishes than those of foreign elites. U.S. and foreign participants often achieve a near-perfect Vulcan mind-meld, according to which it is nearly impossible to tell who is serving in American institutions and who is representing foreign interests.

The only occasional dissonance comes from foreign participants about their roles. They certainly expect the U.S. to increase its efforts in most every area. But they usually resist requests that allies reciprocate by doing more, at least in any measurable degree. After all, other nations have economic problems. And face political barriers. Their resources are limited. And there always seems to be a crisis around the corner. So, Washington should temper its expectations, as it has done for, say, the last 74 years for NATO.

American and foreign participants played Trump before, but they cannot rely on him making the same mistakes if he returns. He still might not truly understand Washington, but he certainly knows who his enemies are. He would be unlikely to staff another administration with Never Trumpers ready to lie to him and determined to thwart his policies. Rather, if inaugurated on January 20, 2025, Trump likely would appoint true believers from the start. And then the troop withdrawals might really begin.

For the establishment, that brings to mind Theodore Roosevelt’s overwrought and underthought claim that “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.” If even one U.S. soldier is removed from Europe, Russian forces would be marching down the Unter den Linden and Champs-Elysees, and heading to the Atlantic Ocean. Failure to back the smallest, least important territorial claim by an ally or partner in the Asia-Pacific would turn the waters into a Chinese lake. And refusing to support even the most brutal Middle Eastern “friend” would risk triggering a modern Armageddon by Iran, or maybe China or Russia.

Of course, Trump’s personal and official failings are many. His policy views are far from consistent. He promoted military confrontation when it suited him. His fidelity to the Constitution seems minimal. And he failed to act decisively as president, despite possessing the constitutional authority to end foolish wars and bring troops home from combat zones.

Nevertheless, the consternation in Washington and abroad at having an American president who simply talked about ending wasteful, dangerous, expensive, and needless military commitments was enormous. That is why so many members of the defense establishment and their foreign confederates remain shell-shocked. Every ambitious proposal they advance is bedeviled by fears that he could return and ruin their grandiose plans for the future.

The American people deserve a real foreign policy choice. Their president should put them first. That means not sacrificing lives and wealth to defend others unless America’s future is also in danger. If Trump wins again, one reason will be the refusal of so many in D.C. to think as much about the residents of mid-American “flyover territory” as foreign satraps with whom they mingle in seminars and cocktail parties. Trump is made more popular by the enemies he makes.


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