Today, nearly 20% of the U.S. defense budget is allocated to deploying 200,000 troops to 177 countries in nearly 800 bases. From Peru to Djibouti to Japan, U.S. military personnel are stationed in every corner of the world, assigned with protecting foreign borders and quashing any potential threat that lurks in the caves of Afghanistan or the jungles of Uganda. At a time when America’s finances are stretched beyond belief, can the U.S. afford to nation-build and be the policeman of the world?
While it is unlikely that President Donald Trump will order the removal of all these boots from foreign territories, it has been shown that on occasion he is willing to challenge the neoconservatives and foreign policy community – the same groups that have gotten it wrong time and again. Much to the chagrin of commentators Max Boot and Ralph Peters, Trump recently ended annual large-scale military exercises with South Korea, complaining that they are too expensive. It’s about time.
Now he proposes another concept that could make war hawks screech in a fit of rage and get fiscal conservatives and anti-war Republicans to dance the Charleston: demand payment from allies for hosting American forces.
Cost Plus 50
According to a bombshell Bloomberg News report, the Trump administration is considering plans to demand allies pay the full price of U.S. soldiers stationed on their land, plus 50% or more. Under the so-called Cost Plus 50 formula, countries like Germany and Japan could be requested to pay five to six times as much as they do now.
Trump reportedly has endorsed this idea for months.
In a January 2019 speech at the Pentagon, President Trump told the attendees: “Wealthy, wealthy countries that we’re protecting are all under notice. We cannot be the fools for others.” A month later, following his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, Trump griped about the “hundreds of millions of dollars on exercises and we don’t get reimbursed” from “countries that are very rich.” A recent U.S.-South Korea meeting was nearly disrupted when he told his representatives that “we want cost plus 50.”
Even since the 2016 election, Trump has rebuked NATO partners for not spending enough on defense and relying too much on the United States for protection. As a result, NATO members announced that they would increase spending by $100 billion.
The White House’s plan is being finalized by the Pentagon, and it is unclear as to when a formal announcement will be made. What is clear, though, is that the Department of Defense is apprehensive about officially backing Trump on this one. Analysts note that the defense leaders might work hard to tone it down, arguing the efficacy of this longstanding policy since the early days of the Cold War.
Democrats have yet to confirm their position on the proposal – they’ll probably just reject it because Trump approves it – but some top Republicans are opposing the president.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called the move “wrongheaded”:
“It would be absolutely devastating. We benefit tremendously. The notion that we are now going to somehow charge them ‘cost plus 50’ is really — it’s wrongheaded, and it would be devastating to the security of the nation and our allies.”
Other critics fear that it could threaten America’s relationship with allies in Asia and Europe, many of which have repeatedly questioned the Trump administration’s commitment to them. Another worry is that the United States may exacerbate domestic debates in nations aggrieved about the American presence in their country. If they view this as an ultimatum, there could be heightened resistance.
Is this what Trump is trying to achieve?
On the campaign trail, Trump was considered the anti-war candidate. Although he has not lived up to the hype, he has been an improvement over his predecessors. Signing peace treaties, winding down wars, withdrawing troops, and establishing a dialogue with isolationist countries have been at the forefront of the Trump Doctrine. His aides go on television and present the case for no longer policing the world, as Stephen Miller did in December 2018:
“What I’m talking about, Wolf, is the big picture of a country that through several administrations had an absolutely catastrophic foreign policy that cost trillions and trillions of dollars and thousands and thousands of lives and made the Middle East more unstable and more dangerous. And let’s talk about Syria. Let’s talk about the fact — ISIS is the enemy of Russia. ISIS is the enemy of Assad. ISIS is the enemy of Turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria generation after generation, spilling American blood to fight the enemies of all those countries?”
Yet, as his administration takes one step forward, it also takes two steps back by bombing Syria and escalating operations in Africa. Perhaps the president gets the wrong advice, or this is all part of the plan.
The public jokes about the God Emperor of the United States (GEOTUS) often employing a strategy of underwater 4D chess while simultaneously playing Hungry Hungry Hippos, Scrabble, and gin rummy blindfolded and handcuffed. But maybe it is not as far-fetched as it seems because if you examine his latest proposal to charge allies for protection, you can see a win-win scenario.
On the one hand, if U.S. forces stay in these nations, then taxpayers will get reimbursed and make a profit on this policy. On the other, if these countries refuse to pay, then U.S. troops can come home, saving taxpayers money and pleasing the non-interventionist crowd.
Why are U.S. troops in Germany more than 70 years after World War II? Why are U.S. personnel in South Korea more than 60 years after the Korean War? Why are U.S. forces still in Afghanistan after the death of Osama bin Laden, the installation of a government, and the deterioration of the Taliban? There are many questions regarding foreign policy, but they typically go unanswered or met with a shrug, signaling that it has always been this way.
Right now, the only major league anti-war candidate running for president in 2020 is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Since she is unlikely to garner enough delegates to secure the nomination, this leaves Trump the next anti-war option because the rest of the 2020 field supports regime-change wars and intervention into the domestic affairs of foreign countries.
Ahead of Election Day, Trump can earn some key victories in this file, whether it is having taxpayers get their money back or having troops return home to protect the U.S. border. Who could oppose either outcome? Well, if a growing number of voters contract Trump Derangement Syndrome, then that question has already been answered