History, What’s That?

Yesterday, President Trump spoke to an American TV audience from the NATO headquarters backdrop. The ceremonial speech, which was actually made to other NATO Country leaders, and was intended to recognize NATO’s history was timed such that it fell into a good TV slot for a US audience.

The dedication of a new NATO building featured the addition of two symbols of why NATO is important. A large section of the Berlin Wall called attention to the Communist (totalitarian) threat and a piece from one of the twin towers starkly reminded viewers of terrorism. One might argue that for the present, these symbols offered fitting bookends to NATO’s history.

That was not sufficient for President Trump. The President managed to weave into his speech his request (demand?) that NATO member countries pay their NATO dues. President Trump lectured the assembled group calling the failure of most of NATO’s members to reach the 2% level as “unfair” to American taxpayers. Still unsure whether President Trump’s speech was aimed at NATO members or for US domestic consumption?

The general theme which has played out during Trump’s campaign and early days of his Presidency says countries around the world should do more to provide their own defense (and not rely upon the US). Seem reasonable?

So, it was not a stretch to call NATO obsolete, Brexit as a good idea, or to suggest Japan and maybe South Korea should go nuclear. Did the Donald say that?  Surely the President or some of his advisors have read history books about World War I and II.

Every country has groups within their borders who espouse democratic and peaceful ways, AND, other groups who see the world in militaristic, nationalistic tones. These domestic forces compete for power, and when conditions are right (for example, extremes of income distribution, economic depressions, suppression of individual freedoms), militarism takes hold and bad things happen.

Freedom of speech, fair income distribution, open education, and fairly perceived taxation are elements of civil life which keep the balance between moderation and extremism under control.

Attacks on the news media, implementing tax policies which reward the already wealthy, tilting education opportunities away from the public and towards the privileged, and shifting away from progressive taxation, are examples of governmental actions which increase a societies vulnerability towards nationalism. Some politicians around the world are only too willing to mouth “Make Country XYZ Great Again”.

Since World War II, the United States has played a positive role in keeping countries which had armed their nations to the hilt and had wage savage war on their neighbors on an alternative course. With economic stability, there was little political reason to rearm (other than for basic needs). With little rearmament, there was even more reason to use diplomacy when differences between various countries inevitably arose.

Imagine European history where every 10 to 20 years saw armed conflicts among neighbors.  Since NATO’s founding, peace has reigned. Think about Japan and how many people today buy Toyotas, Sony equipment, Seiko time keepers, or Canon/Nikon/Milota cameras.  Better than Pearl Harbor?

And instead someone thinks going nuclear is a good idea?

Clearly if NATO nations agree that 2% of their GDP is the appropriate amount for Europe’s defense, then each member country should be paying that amount on average (temporary exceptions for times of economic recession). Remember, however, most European countries have a parliamentary form of government. This means the officials making up the government can be turned out of office if voters become dissatisfied.

Keeping the public’s support is the necessary act of political governing. Does anyone think that countries not spending the 2% on defense could simply shift their national budgets to include the 2% and not short some other government expenditure? These countries have made choice which their people have approved. A unilateral change could have unintended consequences.

The world, including the US are far better off with a European Union (versus individual fiefdoms), a Euro (versus many different currencies of questionable value), and countries both in Europe and Asia more interested in domestic than foreign policy (versus a a flock of countries each trying to out arm the others).

While this opinion might not play well to the Trump base, it is also likely that President Trump, his nativist advisors, and his core supporters understand little about history or diplomacy.

There are other explanations why the President felt it necessary to impolitely lecture his fellow peers. A simple explanation would be President Trump does not see Angela Merkel, Theresa May, or Emmanuel Macron as his peer. Not a good omen, it can be a lonely world.

Hmmm.

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