Watching the developments of the last week in Washington, D.C. has led me to both hope and fear for the near future. I’m afraid that even though former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony laid no smoking gun of criminality at the feet of President Trump, the constant drip, drip, drip of congressional and special counsel investigations will impede Washington’s ability to address real opportunities to impact the challenging state of world affairs right now.
I hope our national leaders will grasp the fact that even amid all the distraction of these investigations, a solid groundwork has been laid by the Trump administration to make progress on several fronts abroad. Let’s start with NATO.
The president took heat for demanding that our NATO allies contribute their fair share to Europe’s defense. Too bad. He was right. For too long European countries have huddled under the protective umbrella of a major U.S. military commitment there while shirking their responsibility to contribute adequately to NATO defense. Few of our NATO allies’ budgets anywhere near amount to what they promised for their own mutual defense.
To put it in perspective, the latest U.S. military budget of $664 billion equals 3.36 percent of GDP, whereas Germany’s $37 billion military budget equals only 1.2 percent of GDP, even as Germany runs huge trade surpluses with the U.S. In relative terms, that means the U.S. is spending nearly 18 times as much as our largest NATO ally on defense. As an example of this discrepancy, a recent report on Germany’s armored vehicle readiness showed that an alarming number of German tanks are nowhere near battle ready, with inadequate spare parts to keep them running and not enough soldiers to drive them even if they did run.
The same or worse goes for our other NATO “partners,” who spend an average of only 1.4 percent of their GDP on defense. These are the same countries that insist the U.S. keep an ironclad commitment to come to Europe’s defense in case of attack, even as they fail to adequately prepare for their own defense. That’s why Trump was right to light a fire under Europe’s leaders during his recent visit to NATO headquarters. It’s time that Europe wakes up to its collective responsibility to defend itself.
Likewise, Trump was right when, during his recent visit to the Middle East, he called on Arab nations to shoulder their full share of the war against Islamic terrorism. Much of the scourge of terrorism springs from these very nations, which have for too long turned a blind eye to radical Islamists, and even given them financial support through their mosques and madrasa schools.
This effort to wake up Arab nations to their own responsibility to tackle terrorism bore fruit last week with the long overdue effort to bring Qatar to task for its overt support of Islamic extremists. The fact that Qatar’s own Arab neighbors are pressing this matter is another indication that Trump’s tough words are resulting in hard action.
The implications of this newfound sense of urgency abroad cannot be overstated. Because of U.S. leadership, the world’s mortal enemy — ISIS — is now on the run in Iraq and Syria, and Arab nations are on notice that they can no longer run from their own obligations to join in this fight. Even Iran, which has been a major exporter of terrorism, last week saw an ISIS attack on its soil, a stark reminder that terrorism knows no boundaries. Maybe the attack was a wake-up call to another American nemesis that it’s time to stamp out terrorism in all its ugly forms.
So Trump ruffled a few feathers, pushing NATO countries to help defend themselves, and prodding Arab nations to join in the fight against terrorism. Maybe it was time that an American president led the charge among our friends abroad, even if he is besieged by his foes at home. Many of his detractors might hate to admit it, but that’s a sign of real leadership.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.