The great ship moved silently through the water.
Actually, it didn’t, as a 60,000-ton, 1,000-foot-long aircraft carrier does nothing quietly. In fact, the approach of such a warship is known far in advance. So as Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov recently entered Dutch waters — an overt show of force, given that its normal route would have taken her around Ireland — defense protocol was to scramble a Dutch naval vessel to "escort" the foreign ship until it passed. In addition to sending the unmistakable message that all potential threats will be met aggressively, shadowing a foreign ship allows for invaluable intelligence-gathering.
But there was one small problem.
The Dutch couldn’t find a single navy ship. Not one.
Incomprehensibly, they didn’t have a coast guard vessel either — inexcusable considering that the Netherlands possesses a strategically crucial coastline. So instead, it sent up an old propeller plane with zero surveillance capability to greet the Kuznetsov. That sound you may have heard was the Russian crew’s hysterical laughter.
Why the embarrassing response? Because the Dutch retired their entire fleet of dedicated maritime patrol aircraft 12 years ago, and the Royal Netherlands Navy was unavailable — not because the fleet was dispatched around the world protecting shipping lanes or fighting piracy, but because in reality it no longer exists, having been massively shrunk due to defense budget cuts.
But the problems of the Dutch — par for the course for most NATO countries — should come as a shock to no one. And it all boils down to appalling European ungratefulness and American stupidity.
NATO rules stipulate that member nations dedicate at least 2 percent of gross domestic product every year to defense spending, yet only four countries met that requirement last year, with the NATO average being 1.6 percent (which has been declining for decades). The United States, on the other hand, spent 4.1 percent, carrying the water for all the slacker countries, as it always does. And to what end?
Our "allies" skimp on defense so they can gleefully fund all their socialist pet projects, knowing full well that the American security guarantee remains staunchly in place. Their "let the Americans do the heavy lifting while we party it up" mentality is the ultimate slap in the face, a giant middle finger to the nation whose Greatest Generation saved their hides (and the world) from the most brutal regimes in history, during both World War II and the Cold War.
And we have only ourselves to blame for perpetuating this humiliation — something that needs to be rectified.
We don’t need Europe the way we did during the Cold War, so it’s time to stop our carte blanche policy and step back. The Europeans need to step up to the plate — for once — and start defending themselves. We should nullify outdated treaties from a different era and remove the bulk of our forces, leaving the continent to their own devices. In addition to weaning Europe off America’s never-ending (and unappreciated) generosity, it would be a boon to our economy, as billions would be spent at home rather than in foreign economies. The same goes for South Korea, where thousands of troops serve only a symbolic, albeit expensive, function.
Instead of having troops stationed in over 130 countries, our leaders should use smarter domestic policy that would result in less blood and treasure needlessly expended overseas.
And a prime example is Iraq.
In response to the recent turmoil in Iraq, a die-hard Republican remarked, "Obama is losing the Iraq victory that George W. Bush won."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, while Bush spearheaded the war effort, scores of Democrats went along by voting for the resolution. Second, and infinitely more important, there was never was a victory to lose. The chaos now engulfing Iraq, which threatens the entire Middle East, is the predictable outcome of a massive bipartisan failure, one predicated on the mentality of being the "world’s policeman."
The intervention in Iraq should never have occurred, but since America’s modus operandi seems to be "shoot first and analyze later," it was inevitable. Now, with thousands of Americans dead or maimed, and trillions spent, there is nothing to show for the Iraq War but anarchy and unspeakable brutality.
Ironically, America serving as the Middle East’s policeman has created a nation of lawlessness, a breeding ground for the planet’s most evil. Before the invasion, sectarian violence and car bombs were nonexistent in Iraq, as Saddam Hussein kept everything in check. A brutal dictator, to be sure, but one who hadn’t threatened or harmed America. Yet we removed him with no regard to consequences, expecting a coronation of roses but instead receiving a nonstop bouquet of bullets and bombs.
America’s invasion and subsequent dismantling of Iraq (its army, police, and political structure) with absolutely no plan for "what to do next" created a power vacuum that exists to this day. Now, two of that country’s largest cities have fallen to radical fundamentalists who are worse than the extremists they are battling. And of course, once again, there is talk of American involvement to "fix" the situation.
Three things are abundantly clear:
1) Despite all the justifications to invade Iraq, the real reason was oil, both for America and the world. But guess what? America has more energy resources in the lower 48 than almost the entire Middle East combined, and when Alaska’s mammoth resources are added, it’s a no-brainer. We need to drill responsibly to completely free ourselves of our unwinnable Middle Eastern entanglements. Not only would it throttle our economy into hyper-drive, as cheap fuel would revive America’s moribund manufacturing base, but it would immeasurably bolster national security.
2) Time to cut our losses. There is no solution for Iraq, at least not one America can produce. We need to monitor the situation closely, but from afar, cruise missiles on standby. But under no circumstances should American boots ever be on the ground there again. Enough is enough.
3) America obviously needs to protect its interests overseas, act as a respectful leader of the world, and be a beacon of light to billions. But in doing so it should heed the vision of another president named George, whose prescience about avoiding foreign entanglements is as applicable today as when he served as our first elected leader.
And the best way to do that is to arrest our misguided policy of playing policeman to the world.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]