President Donald Trump promised to put America first in his foreign policy. He hasn’t had much success—U.S. forces are still fighting every “endless war” he promised to stop—but at least he theoretically has his priorities right.
In contrast, Congress appears to hate America. Legislators of both parties consistently put other nations first.
There are occasional exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, when the president acts on behalf of foreign governments while Congress targets regimes fundamentally hostile to American interests and values. In most cases, however, it is the legislative branch that acts as if it believes its duty is to represent other countries.
For instance, Congress has consistently acted as the first-line defense for antiquated, Cold War alliances. The latest National Defense Authorization Act would bar the use of funds to withdraw from NATO and set a minimum U.S. garrison of 22,500 troops in South Korea.
The transatlantic alliance and the faux “mutual” defense treaties with Japan and Republic of Korea made sense after World War II and the Korean War. Friendly states had been ravaged by war and were threatened by aggressive authoritarian adversaries. America’s protection allowed them to revive and rebuild.
Today, however, Europe enjoys an equivalent economy and a larger population than the U.S. The continent has ten times the economic and three times the population strength of Russia. Italy’s economy alone matches Russia’s. Japan long possessed the world’s second-largest economy. The South has roughly 53 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea.
Yet proposals that Washington shift rather than share defense burdens cause hawkish legislators to run screaming from their respective chambers. Rather than expect allies to learn self-reliance, members maintain the Pentagon as a welfare agency. Horrified that foreign defense dependents might fear being cut off, legislators rush overseas to “reassure” alliance partners. A few years back Congress even approved a “reassurance initiative” increasing America’s financial and troop commitment to the continent. No wonder most European states don’t take defense seriously: they would be fools to do so when Washington is determined to handle it for them.
So, too, the determination to preserve security guarantees and troops deployments in Asia. Seoul long has been able to defend itself. Why should Americans continue to foot the bill?