In his visit to Afghanistan over the weekend, French President Francois Hollande reiterated his commitment to pull out all French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. Many other NATO members are agreeing with Hollande, and are urging major defense cuts as well. “The idea that we have to be a good policeman of the world has been totally discredited, and we’re going to stay home for a while,” said Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “War fatigue” is hitting Europe, but will it finally spread across the Atlantic to the U.S. as well?
Although I disagree with much of Hollande’s and other European leaders’ economic ideas, their public discussions of the financial costs of military intervention, support for withdrawal from Afghanistan and a changing role for their militaries is an encouraging sign. Their governments are deeply in debt and their economies are struggling to grow; a huge reduction in military commitments overseas is perhaps the best thing they can do to address their problems at home.
Meanwhile, while promising to abide by NATO’s 2014 withdrawal date and claiming that the war is “over,” the Obama administration has signed a pact with the Afghan government that would keep a heavy U.S. military presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024.
At the same time, Republicans appear to have no problem with the current trajectory of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama or the levels of military spending. In fact, their only criticism seems to be that the president isn’t intervening or spending enough overseas. It is also ironic that the self-labeled “socialists” in Europe want to reduce government spending while the “conservatives” in America see anything other than infinitely increasing military budgets as appeasement and isolationism.
In other words, when it comes to those who have political power and those who influence foreign policy in American, there is not only no “war fatigue,” but an endless supply of war energy. But in a trend that appears to all too commonly, the American people feel a lot of differently.
In an overwhelming majority, Americans are sick of the war in Afghanistan, and of overseas war in general. When facing foreclosure, debt, and high unemployment, Americans are rightly wondering why it is in our interest to take sides in a Syrian civil war or to stir up hornets’ nests by pummeling countries with drone strikes.
Besides, we simply can’t afford it. While borrowing almost half of every dollar, the U.S. government spends over $1 billion per day in Afghanistan and over $1 trillion per year to maintain a global empire. The Europeans are wisely facing up to the fact that they can’t afford their military obligations, and theirs pale in comparison to ours.
And speaking of Europe, the U.S. also has troops, bases, and nuclear weapons stationed all over Europe. Why shouldn’t Europeans pay for their own militaries and defense? Now that the Soviet Union has broken up, why is NATO not only not disbanded but expanding eastward? President Washington warned us about the dangers of entangling alliances and the tripwires for costly wars that they set, and it appears that NATO is now a tool for offensive military force and intervention, not a defensive deterrent.
The American people are sick of war. Although it is unlikely that a national politician will actually listen, basic economics dictates that this level of spending and military commitments cannot go on forever. And the quicker we realize this, the better off we will be.