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How NATO became the most sacred cow in the barn

Before Trump’s visit the Senate approved by a near-Soviet margin of 97-2 a resolution expressing ‘ironclad’ support for NATO.

July 23, 2018

6:10 PM

23 July 2018

6:10 PM

Outcasts in a party disoriented by Trump Derangement Syndrome (under which “down to you is up,” as Lou Reed once sang), the peace wing of the Democratic Party has been reduced to a corporal’s guard in the House of Representatives, its eminence the admirably nonconformist surfing Hawaiian Tulsi Gabbard.

Peace Democrats are even scarcer in the U.S. Senate. (Where have you gone, Frank Church? Harold Hughes? George McGovern?) Anticipating the Tweeter-in-Chief’s recent blunderbuss European tour, the Senate approved by a near-Soviet margin of 97-2 a resolution expressing what sponsor Jack Reed (D-RI) called “ironclad” support for NATO.

The pair of doughty dissenters are Republicans, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who are consistently the most interesting members of what has become a dull, dreary assemblage of men and women in grey. 

97-2? Up has never been more down. The less “the security of the North Atlantic area,” NATO’s raison d’être, is threatened, the more sacred this cow becomes!

‘Twas not always thus.

In July 1949, a baker’s dozen of U.S. senators voted against ratification of NATO; they ranged from the leftist Idaho Democrat Glen Taylor, known as “the Singing Cowboy,” to Ohio’s “Mr. Republican,” Robert Taft, and included both members of the delegation from North Dakota, traditionally the most antiwar, anti-Wall Street state in the Union.

American entrance into the NATO alliance constituted a repudiation of George Washington’s injunction to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” In his Farewell Address, President Washington advised posterity that “Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.”

In any event, Cold War Americans had been assured by Those Who Knew Best that their boys were not to be a legion of nomads, ordered to remote outposts, never to return home again. When Iowa Senator Bourke Hickenlooper asked President Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, whether Americans were “expected to send substantial numbers of troops over there as a more or less permanent contribution” to the defense of Western Europe, the old smoothie replied with “a clear and absolute ‘No.’”

Acheson lied, but then that is what Secretaries of State do. 

Even in the depths of the Cold War, millions of Americans never rejected George Washington’s counsel against entangling alliances with the foul old whores of Europe. Opinion polls in the 1950s regularly found that a solid third of Americans wanted to bring the boys home, no matter what Time, Life, or the Wise Men said.

During the Vietnam era, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, a cerebral Montanan, proposed the repatriation of half of U.S. forces from Europe; in 1971 his amendment drew 36 votes from a heartland coalition of populist liberals of the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states and conservatives exhibiting a vestigial reluctance to play world policeman.

In the mid-1980s, libertarians and free-market economists as well as the godfather of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, called for a reassessment of the U.S. role in NATO, perhaps even withdrawal therefrom.

Then the Berlin Wall fell. Yet just as the March of Dimes refused to fold after Jonas Salk conquered polio, so did NATO keep on rolling.

In the present madness, almost three decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union—against which NATO was ostensibly poised—even whispered words of doubt about this purposeless alliance are virtual acts of sedition. The U.S. Senate, in which the noble likes of Taft and Mansfield have been replaced by the rebarbative Mitch McConnell and the oleaginous Chuck Schumer, is near-unanimous in its commitment to sacrifice American blood and treasure for Belgium, Germany, Montenegro, and other lands about which the vast majority of Americans care not one whit.

These are deplorable sentiments, or so say the architects and propagandists for the grim and ceaseless concatenation of wars which are disproportionately fought by and claim the lives of the sons (and now daughters) of rural and working-class Americans. But the deplorables, having disarranged and then deranged their rulers once already, may not be done slaughtering sacred cows.

Bill Kauffman’s books include Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (Henry Holt) and Ain’t My America (Holt/Metropolitan).


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