U.S. ties to Europe and the alliance systems the U.S. has promoted since World War II have been a glorious success. Sadly they are under attack from Donald Trump because they cost money. It is not a new story.
Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, the first post-war alliance builders, also faced small-minded domestic opposition when they worked with European leaders to build pan-European institutions immediately after the war. My superiors at the State Department in the early 1960s wrote dozens of speeches for President Kennedy meant to persuade a penny-pinching Congress and the American people of the importance of our European alliance. Kennedy like Truman and Ike was up against a coterie of opponents who like today’s “America firster” grossly exaggerated the costs of pro-alliance policies and were blind to the fact that voluntary alliances and friendships were what set America apart from its Cold War opponent.
Truman, Ike and JFK understood that European and the other alliances the U.S. was building were an investment in our own national security, prosperity, and the spread of freedom around the World. Indeed our alliance policies --- support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the precursors of today’s European Union --- have brought us benefits that even these far-sighted Presidents could not have imagined. They have been America’s most successful foreign policy achievement since 1945, yet Donald Trump says they are too costly and beyond our ability to maintain.
The armies of the Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe after World War II and Western Europe was prostrate. America pitched in to create the NATO shield to respond to the military threat, and it did. Less well understood, American leaders urged the Europeans to bring their national economies closer together to promote a regional prosperity that would help democratic institutions to succeed. We encouraged the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community and a European Monetary Union. Then we supported the creation of the far more ambitious European Economic Community (the EEC), despite the fears of American protectionists and isolationists that it’s growth would be at our expense.
The success of our European allies and the freedom they enjoyed created an enormous attraction that Soviet communism could not match. Western Europe was so successful that the Soviets had to build a wall to prevent their own allies from fleeing. But (take note) the wall did not work. The Soviet Union and its involuntary alliances collapsed anyway because the Soviets could not match the benefits that America’s enlightened policies and investments brought to our friends. In recognition of this, almost all of the erstwhile Soviet “satellites” joined the European Union and NATO after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The details of the success of America’s alliance policy could fill many books but they are so obvious that they should not need repeating. The allies and friends we have made are a tribute to the farsightedness of our postwar leaders. It is amazing that Mr. Trump thinks the tiny price is too high.