But Where Are the Americans?

Military intervention should not become America’s newest entitlement program.

The U.S. budget is in crisis because of so-called entitlements. That is, social welfare benefits to which people believe they are entitled. The prevailing attitude is: So what if Uncle Sam is heading towards bankruptcy? I paid for my Social Security, Medicare, and everything else!

Defense guarantees—and even war—increasingly are seen as an entitlement by America’s allies, friends, and even new acquaintances. That sense of entitlement has grown especially fast among the latter, peoples with no relationship to the U.S. and who have in no way paid for their protection. These days, Libyan rebels express not gratitude for NATO assistance, but anger at insufficient allied aid.

This sense of defense entitlement goes back years. It is most obvious with Washington’s Cold War allies in Europe and Asia.

The Soviet Union disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and Moscow’s power and ambition diminished. The European Union then expanded, and now possesses a larger economy and population than America. Yet Europeans expect the U.S. to keep troops on station, guaranteeing stability and guarding against unseen threats. Most insistent are the Eastern Europeans who—now freed from communist tyranny—believe the American people are obligated to protect nations that only a couple decades ago were Soviet satellites or even part of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps most extreme is Georgia, which believed that it could start a war and count on the U.S. to protect it from nuclear-armed Russia. As Moscow’s forces routed Georgian troops in August 2008, fleeing soldiers and civilians alike asked: “where are the Americans?” They apparently imagined the 101st Airborne dropping from the skies to defeat the Russian hordes.

The Georgian government obviously thought it had paid for the assistance. The Saakashvili regime spent nearly a $1 million on lobbyists and sent Georgian troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Although surprised when no U.S. troops showed up to contest Russia’s advance, President Mikheil Saakashvili told his countrymen that “we will see U.S. military ships entering Georgian ports” and the U.S. military would take control of Georgia’s airports and ports, protecting them from the Russians.

After the war he insisted that the U.S. rearm his nation. And he still hopes to squeeze Tbilisi into NATO, which would win Georgia the same legal defense obligation from America as possessed by the other dependent alliance members.

A similar sense of entitlement is evident in East Asia. U.S. troops have occupied Japan since World War II ended in 1945. The majority of Japanese take for granted the obligation of America to shield them from every international unpleasantness. It would be so unfair to expect a nation that until last year possessed the world’s second largest economy defend itself! Even many pacifists, who want to shrink or eliminate the massive American military presence on the island of Okinawa, assume that Washington should continue to defend their nation.

The Republic of Korea is worse. Today that country enjoys a vast economic, population, and technological edge over its northern enemy. While defended by American troops, the ROK even sent money and food to the North, which last year sank a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean island.

Yet South Koreans react with shock at the suggestion that they take over responsibility for their own defense.

This dependent mentality has spread to the Middle East. Various Israeli officials have demanded that the U.S. bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, even though Israel is a regional military superpower and possesses upwards of two hundred nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Bahrain’s King Khalifa, and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Zayed have made similar requests.

The Saudis and their fellow royal dictators also believe they deserve American protection against internal enemies. The Obama administration’s decision to back away from the Mubarak dictatorship created a major rift with Riyadh, which expected the U.S. to do more to support the Egyptian autocrat who was tossed overboard by his own military. The Khalifa government, with Saudi support, ignored feeble Obama administration protests to suppress democracy demonstrations by Bahrain’s Shia majority.

Most dramatic are the Libyan rebels. Originally many of them dismissed the prospect of allied intervention. Some even threatened to fight any Westerners who meddled in the Libyan conflict. When seemingly poised for victory, opposition activists worried most about their independence.

That changed once Qaddafi rebounded. Then the rebels started clamoring for Western assistance—first airpower and now ground forces.

No surprise: many years before American revolutionaries lobbied for French military aid. But these earlier rebels recognized that Paris owed them nothing and responded to their pleas out of self-interest. The French king was not against monarchy; he was against the British Empire. Americans were happy to take advantage of the circumstances.

In contrast, the Libyan rebels appear to believe that the U.S. and fellow NATO members owe them a defense. The former aren’t grateful for what they have received. They are angry about what the allies have not done.