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“I Saw Americans Fighting” (Or Our Secretary of Defense Wants Our NATO Allies to Start Acting Like Real Countries)

Mr. Gates has forcefully reminded our allies that, to be credible politically, they have to pay for their own defense.  Here’s a taste of the NYT article on his fine speech:

The United States accounts for about three-quarters of total military spending by all NATO countries, and it has in the past taken the lead in military operations and provided the bulk of the weapons and matériel. But in a post-Soviet world, there is growing resentment in Washington about NATO effectively paying for the defense of wealthy European nations.

Those strains have deepened considerably during the air war against Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the first NATO-run multilateral war where Washington has pulled back from a leadership role.

The strains come from varying commitments to the war from different NATO countries, the difficulties of coordinating air attacks, deficiencies of aircraft and ammunition and the simple cost of the operation, which is going on longer than many countries, including France, expected when it began on March 19.

Although NATO ambassadors attended Mr. Gates’s speech, the reaction was muted, and there was little response from NATO capitals, which have heard similar criticisms from Mr. Gates before, though not in such candid terms. “But people should take note,” one NATO ambassador said. “This is not just an old curmudgeon leaving office. He cares about the alliance and says you need to start investing in it.”

NATO’s shortcomings have long been the subject of black humor in Afghanistan, where American military officers sometimes refer to the official NATO command — called the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF — as “I Saw Americans Fighting.” In recent months, the aggravation with NATO in Afghanistan has intensified because of Libya.

“The Europeans enjoy generous social welfare programs in part because the United States subsidizes their defense spending,” said Andrew M. Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a military research organization, who was an Army infantry officer in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2004.

If the United States did not have large stockpiles of ammunition, a senior NATO official said, the NATO campaign would already have come to a halt. The Americans are selling the ammunition, but it was the American military budget that paid for its manufacture and stockpiling.

Some conservatives opposed the election of President Obama on the grounds that he would make America more European.  He would spend a lot more money on social welfare programs, and a lot less on defense.  Both moves would endanger the future of our liberty–not to mention that of the Europeans who parasitically depend on us for protection.

Liberals respond, of course, spending more money on people’s welfare and less on guns are signs of civilization’s progress.  Being more attached to God and guns, as our president said during the campaign, is nothing to be proud of.  The world is evolving in a direction that will be less political and less about military force. 

Some of our conservatives–not to mention European conservates such as Pierre Manent and Roger Scruton–even think that Europe is in the thrall of a postpolitical, postreligious, and postpolitical fantasy.  Sophisticated Europeans believe  the country or nation is withering away, but that would be news to the Chinese and even the Russians.  They also think that self-government (as opposed to meddlesome, soft bureaucratic despotism) is possible without strong European nations, but human rights can’t really be protected without definite political forms and loyal citizens. 

The withering away of the family and religion in Europe might be the main cause of the birth dearth, which even the Europeans are finally comng to recognize clearly as a threat to national or civilizational security.  In our country, we notice, there’s a strong correlation between fertility and observant religious belief, and so our demographic “issues” aren’t nearly as serious.

Admittedly, broad sketches of this kind are never completely accurate and admit of many exceptions.  And some European governments are, in some ways, facing up to the debt and big, unsustainable government issues more candidly than we are.  But still, exaggerations do highlight inconvenient truths.

Mr. Gates’ complaint amounts to something like this:  In order for Europe to be Europe, America has to be America–or pay a lot more for defense.  You guys don’t have to be nations in the full sense, because we’re all that and more.  We’re not going to let you be parasites forever.  If Obama’s administration were all that European, our Secretary of Defense, surely, wouldn’t be speaking so toughly and so realistically.


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