President Donald Trump promised to put America first in his foreign policy. He hasn’t had much success—U.S. forces are still fighting every “endless war” he promised to stop—but at least he theoretically has his priorities right.
In contrast, Congress appears to hate America. Legislators of both parties consistently put other nations first.
There are occasional exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, when the president acts on behalf of foreign governments while Congress targets regimes fundamentally hostile to American interests and values. In most cases, however, it is the legislative branch that acts as if it believes its duty is to represent other countries.
For instance, Congress has consistently acted as the first-line defense for antiquated, Cold War alliances. The latest National Defense Authorization Act would bar the use of funds to withdraw from NATO and set a minimum U.S. garrison of 22,500 troops in South Korea.
The transatlantic alliance and the faux “mutual” defense treaties with Japan and the Republic of Korea made sense after World War II and the Korean War. Friendly states had been ravaged by war and were threatened by aggressive authoritarian adversaries. America’s protection allowed them to revive and rebuild.
Today, however, Europe enjoys an equivalent economy and a larger population than the United States. The continent has ten times the economic and three times the population strength of Russia. Italy’s economy alone is about the size of Russia’s economy. Japan has long-possessed the world’s second-largest economy. South Korea has roughly fifty-three times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea.
Yet proposals that Washington shift its defense burdens rather than share them prompt hawkish legislators to run screaming from their respective chambers. Rather than expect NATO allies to learn self-reliance, members continue to use the Pentagon as a welfare agency. Meanwhile, U.S. legislators seem so horrified that America’s foreign defense dependents have become afraid of losing access to U.S. funding that they have rushed overseas to “reassure” alliance partners. A few years back, Congress even approved a “reassurance initiative” increasing America’s financial and troop commitment to the continent. No wonder most European states don’t take defense seriously: they would be fools to do so when Washington is determined to handle it for them.
So, too, the determination to preserve security guarantees and troops deployments in Asia. Seoul long has been able to defend itself. Why should Americans continue to foot the bill?
Tokyo has enjoyed saving money at Washington’s expense by pointing to the U.S.-imposed constitution with Article 9, which forbids possession of a military. Instead, the Japanese government concocted an under-funded “Self-Defense Force,” which was not even allowed to defend American naval vessels that sailed to Tokyo’s aid until recently. In Iraq, other allied troops had to protect the Japanese contingent, which was not allowed to take up arms.
As for the frenzied insistence that America must protect Ukraine. Well, the country simply has no security importance for the United States. Throughout most of America’s existence, Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. Economically backward and politically divided, the country has been undermined by pervasive corruption. It adds little to the West’s strength while intervening on its behalf risks conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.
Moscow has treated its neighbor badly but imagines how the grandees of Capitol Hill would have reacted were the situation reversed: Russia sponsored a street putsch against a democratically elected, pro-American government in Mexico, and offered the new regime membership in the Warsaw Pact. Sen. Lindsey Graham and his fellow ultra-hawks would be doing the Maori Haka down Pennsylvania Avenue, demanding war.
Washington should leave support for Ukraine to Europe while forging a passable relationship with Moscow. The West has encouraged the latter to leap into China’s arms while causing mischief elsewhere, such as in the Middle East, North Korea, and Venezuela. Sympathy for Ukraine does not justify endangering Americans.