With all this talk of isolationism in the GOP, namely over our “kinetic military action” in Libya and the wearying, ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s an atmosphere that Republicans will be more willing to cut defense spending and reorganize our military to better fit in with the rest of the world. No more Dubya’s and silly foreign expeditions, more or less. But there’s one area that I see missing: Europe. I think it should be front and center.
When we Americans start arguing over welfare spending, it almost inevitably comes to be that those on the “left” say “Well, we’re spending billions and billions of dollars on bombing people in foreign countries, maybe we should cut that first, huh?” Naturally, conservatives balk at cutting military spending (while libertarians agree and then continue arguing to cut welfare anyways), but in terms of Europe, this is an area where they can make a great tactical manuever. I say this because, also almost inevitably, some liberal or progressive will then cite Europe as a great example of their welfare state ideal, saying “See, they can do it! Why can’t we, with the #1 economy in the world, do the same?” This was almost always brought up in the healthcare debate, focusing on the United Kingdom’s NHS, Germany’s social insurance policies, and infant mortality. And what else can conservatives and libertarians say? Europe sucks? Only in some limited aspects, and that’s simply not a respectable argument anyway.
But the whole reason why European countries can devote so much money to their social programs is because we Americans are subsidizing their defense. According to a Defense Department report issued in December 2010 (warning: PDF), we have over 79,000 US troops stationed in Europe (including about 1500 in Turkey.) That’s 79,000 troops that the EU doesn’t have to pay, feed, clothe or arm, though considering US military might, the deterrance factor may be quite higher: nobody wants to actually invade a country where there are US troops (unless they’re Kim Jong-il, but, well…he’s Kim Jong-il. Enough said.) That’s a huge component of their budget they don’t really have to worry about. Sure, they do devote some resources to it, but its really only a token gesture. Case in point, the recent British-French idea to treat their aircraft carriers like timeshares. (“Do YOU have an aircraft carrier timeshare you need to sell?”)
Here, conservatives can win big. By stepping up and pushing for reducing troop deployments in Europe, they can cut billions out of the defense budget, which A) live up to their pledge of cutting spending, something they failed miserably on during the government shutdown debate, and B) can get their ideological opponents to shut up for a minute in stunned silence because, holy cow, they really did cut military spending.
The other half of the victory comes when Europe recognizes that it no longer has the United States subsidizing its defense, and is forced to actually put more money into that department. In turn, that forces them to cut into social programs which, ironically, were a hefty chunk of the cause of the Euro crisis that’s been developing over the past year or so. And then whammo, there goes the European Example for leftist critics. It would be a one-two blow that might totally sweep them off their feet.
And because of that European Example, I think it might actually be doable. Military reductions in other parts of the globe would not sit well with the conservative base. South Korea? There’s Kim Jung-il again. Japan? China. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya? Al-Qaeda, Iran, and Gadhafi. But what’s there for Europe? Sure, Russia likes playing the boogeyman in conservative nightmares, but its not all that convincing. It won its war against Georgia, but that’s like Donald Trump getting into a bidding war with some kids for a lemonade stand. Not exactly a bright mark. The only other threat I can think of are terrorists, and we’ve done so much good in that department.
Unfortunately, despite this “isolationist” strain emerging within the GOP, I don’t really see any Republicans arguing something along these lines (aside from Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and their supporters.) I’m still not sure why. Are they afraid of losing face with conservatives and Republicans, of going “too far” and jeopardizing the base’s support in the election? I would think that voting bloc would love to let Eurocommies pay for their own guns. Are they afraid of defense contractors and the gazillions of greenbacks they can dump into campaigns? That’s probably more accurate.
In either case, I just have to shake my head. Maybe this is why I’m a libertarian and not a conservative.