Washington has been supremely embarrassed-by a nominal ally, as usual. After the Trump administration insisted that its involvement in Yemen helped reduce civilian casualties there, Saudi Arabia promptly launched an air attack that slaughtered a bus full of school children.
It was a demonstration of how America’s allies often cause more trouble than her enemies do.
No country has more allies that the United States. The most important ones are in Europe and Asia, though Washington also designates favored nations as “Major Non-NATO Allies” (MNNAs), which typically receive some mix of security guarantees and financial support. Then there are a few informal allies, which are security partners in all but name.
This list seems ever to increase. U.S. policymakers constantly seek out more, rather like how many strive to increase their Facebook friends. And indeed, many of America’s professed friends have no more value than those on Facebook.
Washington should stop automatically treating its allies’ enemies as its own enemies.
There are 28 other NATO members, including such behemoths as Albania, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Recently invited to join was Macedonia. Presidents have designated 16 nations as MNNAs, which includes Australia, Japan, and South Korea, along with Egypt, Bahrain, Israel, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Argentina. Saudi Arabia and Taiwan are de facto allies, with presumed but unclear security guarantees.
That’s a lot of charges for America to keep track of. Unfortunately, many of these allies haven’t been putting their best faces forward lately, which has caused plenty of headaches for Washington.
Germany. This enemy turned ally should be the cornerstone of any continental defense alliance. The Federal Republic has Europe’s largest economy and population. It also has a history of military accomplishment (though Germans are admittedly uncomfortable pointing that out). Yet Berlin treats Germany’s and Europe’s defense as an afterthought. The Merkel government has ramped up military spending slightly, though to what effect is unclear: the Bundeswehr lacks even minimal readiness and could not be deployed in any serious fight.
Turkey. Having morphed into the caliphate that the Islamic State only claimed to be, Turkey is growing more Islamist and authoritarian by the day. The new sultan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still feels the need to hold elections. But they are mere formalities, with Erdogan having seized control of the media, imprisoned political opponents, punished critical businessmen, and silenced academics. He’s also treated tens of thousands of people as traitors, prosecuting some, firing others, banning travel by many, and scaring private firms against employing most of them. At the same time, Ankara has undermined Washington’s security interests, purchasing Russian military equipment, facilitating ISIS activity on Turkish territory, targeting America’s Kurdish allies, threatening U.S. troops stationed with Kurdish forces, and confronting NATO neighbor Greece.
Saudi Arabia. Even after modestly loosening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s cultural strictures, the Saudi government shares few interests and values with America. Politically and religiously, Saudi is a totalitarian state. There are no meaningful elections, no critical media, no opposition activists, no public worship by non-Muslims, and no limits to the abusive power of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud. Despite his reputation as a reformer, MbS, as he is known, is unwilling to accept the slightest criticism at home or abroad. Internationally he is a reckless and bloody adventurer. He attacked Yemen to restore a pliable leader to power, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. He supported radical insurgents in Syria, contributing to that nation’s violent implosion. He attempted to isolate and apparently planned to invade Qatar with the intention of turning it into a puppet state, until U.S. pressure and Turkish troops prevented that. He kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister and forced his resignation-which was immediately reversed when Riyadh finally allowed its captive to leave.
Egypt. Pharaoh Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who usually uses the title “president,” has created a police state far more fearsome than anything deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak ever ran. Cairo, dependent on Saudi subsidies, joined the assault on Qatar. Washington, meanwhile, pays Egypt not to attack Israel, even though the comfortable, well-paid, and influential Egyptian military elite has no intention of risking the good life with a foolish war. The money instead underwrites the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Egyptians, who years hence likely will remember who aided their oppressors.
Israel. Politically inviolate in America, Israel is a regional superpower that requires neither subsidy nor guarantee for its security. Its only serious existential threat comes from within, created by more than half a century of brutal occupation over a large Palestinian population. Moreover, in coming years that occupation could force Israel to choose between being Jewish and democratic. And even worse, the Netanyahu government is driving Washington towards war with Iran, a nation that poses no threat to America and that can be contained by its neighbors.
Poland and the Baltic States. The reason Germany and most other NATO members spend so little on their militaries is because they don’t really fear Russia. An attack by Moscow on Europe is only slightly more likely than a Martian invasion. President Vladimir Putin is not pushing a global ideology and would benefit little if his troops ended up occupying a war-ravaged continent. Russia would also lose any full-scale war with America and Europe. Poland and the Baltics seemingly do worry more about Moscow’s ambitions, but they aren’t willing to spend on their defense. These governments-other than Estonia-have found it painful to hit even the alliance’s recommended military spending level of 2 percent of GDP. Yet even that is a pitiful amount for nations that claim to be at risk of a Russian blitzkrieg. Instead of pouring resources into a tough territorial defense, they want Washington to station U.S. forces on their territory.
Argentina, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, and Morocco.Why are these considered allies? Argentina is a nice place to visit, but it has little security relevance to the United States: years ago, Washington chose the United Kingdom over Argentina when those two states came to blows over the Falkland Islands. Tunisia is the one success of the Arab Spring, but a “major” ally? American forces should have come home from Afghanistan years ago. Pakistan has continually undermined America’s policy in neighboring Afghanistan. The Philippines has a military even less fit for combat than Germany’s but expects Washington to fight China to protect its contested territorial claims. And although Morocco is a great tourist destination, it occupies the Western Sahara against the wishes of that region’s people.
Japan. Another enemy turned friend, Tokyo for decades enthusiastically hid behind its U.S.-imposed constitution, which technically forbids it to create a military. The Japanese instead established a “Self-Defense Force” and greatly limited its responsibilities. That made sense in the early years after World War II, but certainly not today. Japan has the capability to deter both North Korea and China and could contribute significantly to Asian-Pacific security. Even once skeptical nations such as the Philippines want their former occupier to do more. So far, however, Japan prefers that U.S. policymakers risk Los Angeles to protect Tokyo.
Montenegro. This micro-state entered NATO last year, bringing with it a 2,000-man military. The country is best known as the movie set for the James Bond film Casino Royale. As an international combatant, it compares poorly to the imaginary Duchy of Grand Fenwick immortalized in the novel and movie The Mouse that Roared. Likely next new member Macedonia has a similar feel, though its military is bigger, about 8,000 men.
Facebook friends aren’t worth much, but at least they normally don’t cost anything. Accepting an online friend does not obligate one to pay his mortgage, gas up his car, and defend him from local gangsters.
America’s allies are very different. They expect to be paid for everything they do, don’t do, could have done, and were willing to do if we’d thought to ask. They want security guarantees, explicit and implicit. In the worst cases, they drag America into stupid, needless, endless wars.
Alliances are not social clubs to which all countries should belong. They are a means to an end, military organizations that should enhance America’s security. Most of our allies today fail that standard. Ending unnecessary alliances doesn’t mean always going it alone. It means cooperating with countries towards shared ends while maintaining the flexibility to assess the degree of danger and proper response.
Thankfully, America faces few true existential threats. Washington should stop automatically treating its allies’ enemies as its own enemies. Better to avoid unnecessary conflicts, leave capable friendly states responsible for their own defense, and encourage regional security cooperation.
If U.S. military action is necessary as a last resort, so be it. But let that action reflect necessity on behalf of American security, not misguided loyalty to a fake ally.Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
The Trump administration will soon place new limits on legal immigration with a regulatory change that will penalize newcomers just because they could use public benefits in the U.S. The point, according to a spokesman for the president, is “to ensure that the government takes the responsibility of being good stewards of taxpayer funds.”
In the long run, however, the proposed rule will amount to the opposite of good stewardship: It will cost the government, and taxpayers, much more than it will save.
The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department already consider whether immigrants are likely to become “a public charge” before issuing visas to them, or granting them permanent resident status (green cards). The administration’s modified rule would codify that process, setting new, stricter standards.
Leaked drafts of the regulation show that immigrants could be at risk if the government thinks they might consume, over a year, as little as $1 a day (for primary immigrants), or 50 cents a day (for each person in a family of four), in public benefits. Even the welfare consumption of an immigrant’s citizen children — their use of food stamps, say, or Medicaid — would count in the calculation.
Under the new rule, many lawful migrants already in the U.S. would no longer qualify for green cards. It could put their livelihoods at risk, turn some of them into illegal immigrants or force them to leave the country. Their wages and their families’ fortunes would drop, but their U.S.-born citizen children would still have access to welfare. Those children would become a bigger burden to U.S. taxpayers.
To justify the new policy, the administration not only ignores the research, it rigs the regulation to make sure it produces a negative result for immigrants.
The new rule would also tend to target younger immigrants because they generally have lower incomes than their older counterparts. However, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that younger immigrants in particular pay more into the system than they take out over the course of their lives. They are also likely to have children in the future and, as the report said, although second-generation immigrants as children “absorb slightly more [public] benefits,” they also contribute “considerably more in taxes during working ages” than other immigrants and American citizens.
In the draft of the rule, the Trump administration explicitly rejects crafting a regulation based on its long-term fiscal impact because, according to the administration, “there is a lack of academic literature or economic research examining the link between immigration and public benefits.” On the contrary: There is a vast archive of peer-reviewed studies that analyze the costs and benefits of immigrants to taxpayers. Like the National Academy of Sciences report, most of this research shows that immigrants overall pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, or that they at least pay enough taxes to cover the benefits they consume.
For example, a report in the journal Health Affairs found that from 2002 to 2009, immigrants paid $115.2 billion more into Medicare than they took out in benefits, which has helped forestall the program’s rush toward insolvency. Similarly, Social Security data show that immigrant contributions are reducing that program’s deficits. According to the New York Times, Trump’s own Department of Health and Human Services delivered a report in 2017 that showed that refugees “brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.” The White House promptly buried the study.
Based on the results in the National Academy of Sciences report and the terms of the new rule in the leaked draft, I calculated my own cost-benefit analysis of the Trump administration’s regulation: It will cost $1.46 for every dollar it saves.
To justify the new policy, the administration not only ignores the research, it rigs the regulation to make sure it produces a negative result for immigrants. For instance, under the new rule, the welfare an immigrant’s U.S. citizen children consume as dependents counts in considering his or her status, but not the taxes they pay once they are no longer dependents.
I applaud the administration’s stated goal — protecting taxpayer money. And I agree with its implied goal — a reduction in immigrant welfare use. But denying green cards to immigrants is not the way to fix the welfare system. That would require cutting benefits and access across the board for noncitizens, but also for citizens who are the system’s primary beneficiaries.
Instead, the government is proposing a complicated new regulation that will block immigrants from their shot at the American Dream. It’s inhumane, and it will backfire, increasing deficits and entitlement shortfalls. That’s no one’s definition of good stewardship.Alex Nowrasteh is the senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute. He is coauthor of its policy report “Building a Wall Around the Welfare State, Instead of the Country.”