U.S. Army Col. Eric Sones, commander of troops, gives commands to the color guard detachment during the Europe Regional Medical Command relinquishment of command and assumption of responsibility ceremony July 30, 2013, at Sembach Kaserne in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Photo by Elizabeth Paque, courtesy the U.S. Army.
Although the U.S. military is understandably coy about providing precise details, tens of thousands of American military personnel are stationed on the soil of our European allies, for their protection at least as much as ours.
The number of German military personnel on German bases here in the United States for the same purpose? Zero. The number of British personnel based in the U.S.A. for our mutual defense? Zero. Ditto the Italians, and every other European member of NATO. The closest any of them come are using some of our bases for training.
It has long been a given that, with a few isolated exceptions, Europe is not pulling its weight when it comes to mutual defense. The United Kingdom is one of only five NATO states currently meeting the minimum target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. But slacking off is one thing; sabotage is another. Which is why it is nothing short of galling that European leaders are collaborating with Iran, Russia and China to help Iran evade American financial sanctions.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief announced in late September that the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal – including France, the U.K. and Germany – would coordinate with the EU to work around U.S. sanctions. The mechanism, called the “special purpose vehicle,” will in theory allow countries, including non-EU nations, to conduct financial transactions with Iran without triggering secondary sanctions. The special purpose vehicle could be in place as soon as November.
While the details aren’t finalized, analysts already doubt that the plan will work as intended. With military figures and diplomats already warning that President Donald Trump could threaten to pull U.S. troops out of Europe or avoid NATO exercises if Europe does not increase defense spending, it also seems conceivable that the bloc’s commitment to dealing with Iran may trigger U.S. troop withdrawals.
It would be hard to argue against such a move. After all, what should we say to the parents, spouses, siblings and children of our overseas armed forces if they ask why their loved ones are risking their lives to defend Europeans against prospective aggression while Europe’s governments are undermining the steps we take to constrain Iran’s deployments of nuclear weapons, advanced missiles and regional proxy armies?
It is fair for our European allies, or at least putative allies, to disagree with the Trump administration’s decision to renounce the 2015 agreement (never ratified as a treaty) to temporarily restrain Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Reasonable people can disagree over the best methods to try to bring the terror-sponsoring, hostage-taking Tehran regime into line with civilized norms.
But when forced to choose between Tehran’s policy goals and Washington’s, the response ought to be a no-brainer for governments like Angela Merkel’s in Berlin and Theresa May’s in London.
Iran has often repeated a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which around a third of the world’s seaborne oil shipments routinely transit. Very little of that oil is bound for America these days. A lot of it is heading for China and Europe. But the military forces committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the Strait are mostly American, with due respect to the equally committed Saudis.
European nations are sovereign and they are entitled to their own foreign policy. Americans are equally entitled to question what we gain from our unlimited commitment to protect European countries from the very adversaries that they embrace.
The year 2020, which is not very far off, will mark 75 years since the end of World War II, and the start of America’s indefinite presence in Europe. If Europe’s efforts to counteract Iranian sanctions represent the level of support we can expect, maybe it is time to bring our people home and let Europe take responsibility for itself. If European leaders believe their policies vis-a-vis Tehran and Moscow will make them more secure than ours, let them answer to their own people for the results.
American troops went “over there” twice to help rescue Europe from its own folly. We are under no obligation to hang around in case they need bailing out a third time.