Denmark Lectures America on NATO
While whining about the threat posed by Russia, Rasmussen never explained why European governments had failed so abysmally in the most important test since the end of the Cold War. Most Europeans have little interest in spending more on the military, deploying troops in the easternmost NATO members, or confronting Moscow militarily over Ukraine. If America takes the “leadership” role Rasmussen desires, most Europeans never will support doing any of those things.
Rasmussen tried another rhetorical tactic, one common with American neoconservatives. He argued: “it’s in the United States’ interest to actually prevent conflicts while they are still manageable and small, instead of waiting and seeing them grow bigger,” when “it would be much too expensive for the United States to actually keep the lid on all the boiling conflicts.”
Again, one wonders why only America should act to keep “the lid on” in such cases. A quarter century ago the Balkans was in flames. That impacted Europe. It had no serious effect on the United States. Wasn’t it in Europe’s interest to act?
Moreover, Rasmussen presumes that Washington officials are capable of discerning potential disasters in advance, acting swiftly and intelligently to defuse impending conflicts, showing uncommon understanding in developing solutions and steadfastly imposing and enforcing settlements. Really?
What American intervention gives rise to such a hope? Vietnam? Iraq? Somalia? Haiti? Libya? Kosovo? Yemen? Afghanistan? The results have been uniformly bad, often disastrous, leading to successive interventions to fix problems created by the previous effort. Better a few “boiling conflicts” than to be constantly scalded while unsuccessfully trying to hold down the lid.
Nevertheless, America must be the global policeman since “we don’t have any other,” Rasmussen declared. The cost to Americans obviously doesn’t matter. Rasmussen said, “I would ask the next president of the United States to exercise determined American global leadership,” which apparently means making constant war.
At least Rasmussen is nonpartisan in spreading the blame. He charged President Barack Obama with being “too reluctant to use American force to prevent and solve conflicts around the world.” It is the president’s refusal to use the military that has resulted in “autocrats, terrorists and rogue states” being more influential. Seriously.
What world does Rasmussen live in? President Obama finished the Bush occupation schedule in Iraq, twice increased forces in Afghanistan and delayed his own withdrawal plan, intervened in Libya, mounted sustained drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, launched a war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria and backed Saudi Arabia in its brutal campaign in Yemen. What more should Washington have done?
About all that is left is Syria, but does Rasmussen really believe that there was something useful to do, the United States knew what to do, the American people would support what must be done, and the end would be peace and stability rather than years more of conflict? Even more bizarre is his belief that China, Russia, and terrorists would go away if only America exercised “global leadership.” Unless Washington is prepared to go to war with nuclear-armed powers over stakes which are minimal for America but great for them, such challenges are inevitable. And intervention creates rather than eliminates terrorism. Failure to intervene more promiscuously did not create either Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
The fact that someone with Rasmussen’s extreme and unrealistic views played an influential role in NATO is another argument against the alliance. Indeed, people like him help explain the rise of people like Trump. Indeed, what is more likely to provoke a reaction in America than being lectured by leaders from small countries like Rasmussen’s Denmark or Stoltenberg’s Norway, countries that contribute little to the alliance and take more militant positions (increasingly at the behest of even smaller and more vulnerable states in NATO’s east)? In a post-Brexit world, there may be little appetite for lessons from a NATO bureaucratic elite that shows little gratitude to America for its role in Europe and in fact speak as though they are entitled to receive U.S. protection despite risking little themselves.
Policing the globe is not America’s job. Protecting the interest of wealthy allies like Denmark and other European states is not America’s job. Sacrificing its people’s lives and wealth to suppress tragic but irrelevant conflicts around the globe is not America’s job.
Washington should focus on the defense of the United States—its people, territory, system of ordered liberties and property. What that requires will change over time as circumstances evolve. But America’s mandate begins with America, not Denmark or anywhere else.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He also is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
Image: Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Flickr/DVIDSHUB.