The Republican establishment has been taking a shellacking in the past few months, as Donald Trump continues his march to the GOP nomination.
Trump’s supporters are angry about a great many things, and his opponents don’t have a clue how to calm down them down. Their most recent ideas have included wheeling out failed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and issuing an open letter from the Republican national security community. Both have had little effect.
Trump’s key narrative is that he will stop the United States from being taken advantage of on the world stage. Usually this takes the form of ridiculous attacks on free trade, but Trump does have a point that the United States is being fleeced when it comes to foreign policy.
America has fought multiple wars for over a decade, with nothing to show for it but a destabilized Middle East, hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, and the loss of thousands of lives. This is not what victory looks like, and large swaths of the American people want to try something else.
One of the foreign policy issues Trump has distinguished himself over is America’s excessive subsidization of allies.
Since as far back as 2000, Trump has been arguing that “the cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.”
It’s easy to understand why his supporters agree. American taxpayers are sick of their hard-earned money being used to defend decadent European welfare states that are more than capable of defending themselves.
NATO countries are supposed to spend a minimum of 2 percent of GDP on defense, yet as of 2015, only the United States and three other countries were meeting or exceeding this goal—with the U.S. spending close to 5 percent GDP on defense when funds for “overseas contingency operations” are included.
Trump’s supporters might not have degrees from the nation’s most prestigious colleges, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid, and as Robert Merry points out in the National Interest, it seems that a large segment of America has had enough of this freeloading.
There are admittedly few incentives for European states to meet their defense spending goals. The Europeans know that, with over 60,000 U.S. service members deployed on their continent, the U.S. will fix whatever problems might arise.
This is a textbook example of free riding. The Europeans rely on the United States to subsidize their defense costs, so that they can dedicate more funds to their lavish welfare programs.
American officials obviously want NATO members to meet their spending obligations, but they are unwilling to do anything other than hector the Europeans to change their behavior. And occasionally being scolded by foreign functionaries is a small price to pay for billions of dollars in free defense every year.
It’s unfortunate that the alternative on this issue is Donald Trump. However, as long as the national security establishment continues to look the American people in the eyes and tell them, with a straight face, that it is in their interest to spend more money on wasteful initiatives like subsidies for Europe, Trump will continue to gain ground. The only way to affect Trump’s support among the disaffected is to give us a global defense policy that actually makes sense.
Zachary Yost is a Young Voices Advocate who works in the Washington, D.C. area.