Monday, April 3, 2017

Alliance Ignorance

Picking on Trump for not knowing history is probably a waste of time because he does not care about being accurate or right or true.  But I could not help myself when I saw him say stupid stuff about alliances.
My response:

This tweet got a heap of attention, with much support and a few history pedants (who remind me of a few negative teaching evals in a pile of positive ones--they stick out and itch).  I challenged Trump to name examples where alliances did not work out for the US.  To be clear, alliances can fail in three pretty important ways:
  1. the allies don't show up when expected or needed
  2. an ally sucks you into a war you didn't want to fight
  3. allies shirk much of the burden so that one is drained.
A quick dance through US history shows that none of these really applied much.
  • The US won the American Revolution thanks to its alliance with France.  
  • The War of 1812 was one where the US opportunistically jumped into a war while Britain was fighting with France, but there was no expectation that the US would be operating as part of an alliance.  
  • No allies were expected or needed in the various wars of the 1800s that added territory (Mexican-American War, War against Spain).  
  • WWI? The US entered late, helping to tip the balance somewhat after the other countries did most of the heavy lifting of draining Germany and attrit-ing it to the edge of collapse.  
  • World War II?  I got much pushback on my tweet since I didn't include the Pacific War, where the US did carry much of the fight, but even then the Aussies did a lot of fighting before the Americans arrived and then British/Indians stopped the Japanese in the west. Oh, and yes, the nuclear bombs mattered, but so did Soviet entry in August 1945.   Turns out many Americans don't know that the Soviet armed forces bled the Germans far, far, far more than the Americans. And anyone mentioning D-Day forgets that 3/5s of the beaches were invaded by non-Americans (the Brits had two, the Canadians one, plus a smattering of French, Polish and others were mixed in).
  • While the US was the key player in the cold war, alliances with European countries and Canada (NATO) and with Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Philippines) played a major role in containing the Soviet Union.  Allies did fight alongside the US in Korea.  
  • Vietnam is one of the few wars where our allies did not show up in a major way, and can you blame them?  Not a wise war, and even then the Australians, South Koreans and some others showed up.
  • The Gulf War of 1991 was a very multilateral effort even if the US had the preponderance of troops.
  • Afghanistan? First and only time Article V of the NATO treaty was invoked--when the US was attacked on 9/11.  All of NATO showed up in Afghanistan although unevenly
  • Iraq? Even this misguided war involved a number of allies--most prominently the UK at significant cost.
At no point was the US attacked and then left hanging by allies who did not keep their commitment.  One could blame Vietnam on the French sucking the US in, but the US had plenty of discretion and choose repeatedly to get deeper and deeper.  The only war I can think of that American allies got the US involved?  The Libyan campaign.  Not a major war by any measure.
Burden-sharing? Yes, any alliance will have some burden-sharing problems, but as Trump forgets, when the US carries much of the burden, it also then has much of the leadership of the effort.  And, at no point did the US engage in any effort that was made "unsustainable" due to allied shirking.  Shirking has been a political, not a military, problem, as it can raise a sense of unfairness.

In sum, it is hard to think of an alliance that did not work out well for the US.... with one possible exception.  The US did not get the peace it wanted after World War I because the allies, since they paid a far higher cost, demanded a higher price from Germany, which ultimately came back to haunt them.  The key point here is that alliances have worked out very well for the US, yet Trump seems to want to shred them.  For what reason? Because the US spends more on defense and others spend less?  This might be a credible complaint if Trump were not so interested in increasing the US defense budget.

NATO and the other alliances have been key contributors to peace and prosperity for seventy plus years.  They still serve vital purposes today in furthering American interests.  Yet, Trump's deliberate ignorance may lead to policies that undo much of what has been done.  And what Trump does now will be hard to undo.  Sad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree but the lazy issue is he has every opportunity to learn so he can see the differences between when someone is snowing him and providing 'advice' which is not good advice. Someday, when he realizes how he can make an independent decision and be supported by all factions of American, he will have gained the individual power he needs to sway the collective.

Now - he sees the ills of his past come flashing in words and facts and is afraid of the out-come of the investigation and even things he said during his Campaign, so continues to rebut by nonsense Tweets and be used as a vehicle to spout inconvenient lies by his advisors. It must be difficult for him to know after all he has built to become a Billionaire, that it will all be gone one day. If he changes, it won't go away - it - meaning the untruths and lies.