Even so, I rapidly adopted the attitude that if they didn't want us there, we should leave...and take all our money with us. Let Europe handle its own self-defense; we couldn't take the actual military bases with us so they'd have plenty of infrastructure to fill with their own troops, guns, tanks, aircraft, and so on.
At their own expense.
Against the backdrop of the Cold War that was really not such a brilliant plan. Absent the American military presence in Europe, the USSR would have steamrollered Europe and communism would have lasted a couple more decades. Further, the governments of Europe knew which side of their bread contained the butter, which is why there was never a serious move towards ousting the US military. It was the European communists who wanted the US out of Europe so the USSR could take over, and they were a bare minority.
It's less of an issue now, I think. Russia is still looking to expand its hegemony (see "Ukraine") but they can't go about it the way they used to. I've read opinion pieces which suggested that Russia is, as a regional power, just about on its last legs, mainly due to birthrate contraction and other factors which are devilishly difficult to control. Ukraine's biggest error was trusting the US to protect them and giving up their nuclear weapons; if they had ignored Clinton's suggestions (which were about nothing other than making Bill Clinton look good) Russia would not have been able to invade now, not without risking serious retaliation.
Which brings me to this piece by Mark Steyn about how the US handles wars and international agreements. "Treacherous as a friend" is a damning phrase, and it very neatly encapsulates most of US foreign policy since the 1970s.
Iraq reminds some older folks of Saigon in 1975, and they're not wrong...and for much the same reason: the US pulled all support for a client state which was beseiged by enemies, and said client state collapsed soon after.
South Vietnam only needed materiel support to keep the Viet Cong at bay. They'd repulsed other attempts and could have prevented the fall of Saigon if the United States had sent them the stuff they needed...but a Democrat Congress decided not to send any aid. Nixon (who had been strong, before Watergate) had been ousted, and Ford was weak, so there was no way to keep the anti-communists afloat. They didn't need troops, primarily; they needed guns, and bullets, and first aid kits, and K-rations, and whatever else an army runs on. They didn't get it, the Viet Cong (bankrolled by USSR and China) steamrolled over them, and Vietnam went entirely communist.
Carter oversaw the fall of the Shah of Iran--another Democrat abandoning support for a pro-American government in a hostile area--giving us the Ayatollah and the "students" that seized the American embassy in Tehran. And then doing nothing in response to an act of war. The Shah was a skunk, but he was better than what replaced him, and the most charitable thing I can say about Carter's foreign policy is that it was incompetent.
These displays of weakness towards enemies and treachery towards friends has been the hallmark of Democrat foreign policy since Johnson left office. Johnson was a socialist but at least he understood the concept of self-defense (and also that your enemies will call you a "bully" if you get too strong, and your best strategy is to ignore them because they're your enemies). Nixon ("socialist-lite" country-club Republican) understood the dangers of communism, better than most since he was weaned at McCarthy's knee in the 1950s; he understood that the worst thing you could do was to let your enemies set the rules of engagement. (Which is why he gave the order to bomb the areas which had formerly been agreed upon as "no-bomb" zones.)
It's not a coincidence that terror attacks on American targets all but ceased after Reagan had the Air Force bomb Tripoli in 1986. Bush oversaw the first Gulf War; he was squishy but still had enough understanding of the opposing forces that he knew playing nice was not going to fix anything.
Clinton? Clinton thought lobbing a few cruise missiles was enough. As stated he oversaw the Ukraine giving up its nukes: "Sure, fellas! We'll halp y'all if you need it, but ya gotta give up them nuclear weapons first." ...and of course when push came to shove twenty years later, Obama was all, "Uh...no, we can't, uh, get involved in an internal, uh, dispute, which anyway was, uh, um, brought about by, uh, a, uh, um, er, referendum for independence...." Particularly not when his secretary of state Hillary Clinton had taken the reset button to Russia.
All of which left us primed and ready for 9/11: the terrorists were used to operating in an environment where the US didn't respond to terror attacks (and was thus "weak"). Prior to 9/11 the worst consequences they suffered was when Clinton decided it was time to expend a few Tomahawks. Since the terror cells were mobile this usually amounted to rearranging some landscape and killing a few people who may or may not have been involved in the terror attacks that prompted the reprisal (and who were always reported as being terrorists, because (D) in White House).
9/11--I still think that the islamic terror community must have shit itself over what happened, once they finished celebrating and saw the terrible resolve that gripped the US. But now that Obama declared the "war on terror" to be over, and pulled troops from Iraq, now it's all going back.
The greatest failing of foreign policy in our modern era is that we have forgotten what war is for. It's not to bring democracy to the world; you cannot force a society to join the rest of us in the 21st century. If you wish to win a war, you first have to crush the enemy's will to fight; if you are trying to build water treatment plants but you are still taking casualties the war is not over. So what happened in Iraq is, in fact, the US almost won, then left.
The first time was in 1991; the second was last year. Both times we left an enemy behind who was emboldened by our apparent inability to finish the job.
...because if we did it right, the rest of the world would call us "bullies". And just as our abandonment of SOuth Vietnam in 1975 led to mass graves, so does our abandonment of Iraq lead to mass graves. Odd how no one decries the communists or the islamists as "bullies" even as they butcher people by the thousands or millions solely because they supported the pro-US regime.
The lack of will to win--to cause the kind of devastation and death that a victory would entail--is what is keeping us in this mode of treachery and harmlessness. In 1979, when "students" seized the US embassy in Tehran, our response should have been immediate and incomprehensibly violent. In 1975, we should not have abandoned Saigon to communists. In 1986, Reagan did exactly the right thing when he had Tripoli bombed. In 1991, Bush I started to do exactly the right thing, but then lost his nerve and gave up before ousting Saddam Hussein. His son did a better job, but declared victory too soon, and made the mistake of trying to democratize people who had no interest in democracy. And Obama, of course, pulled the US out of Iraq entirely, setting the stage for the islamic totalitarians to take over again.
We should never try to democratize a place we are not taking as a colony. Send the troops in to kill people and break things, and once that's done, leave. If we're not going to fight to win we shouldn't start fighting; certainly we shouldn't smash the infrastructure, then switch to defensive fighting only while we fix what we broke. If we have to do that, then the war wasn't a just one in the first place and we shouldn't have been fighting it.
The war in Iraq was a good choice for one reason: it kept the attention of islamic terror focused on a place which was not the United States. Now that Iraq is falling to the savages, you can expect terror attacks elsewhere. Otherwise, our involvement there was a bad idea.
We can't fix what's wrong with the middle east. Here's what we can do:
1) Stop depending on terrorist countries for oil. We have enough of our own. This requires an energy policy which is not based on feelings and unicorn flatus, but it's a hard world.I could go on, but I don't think I need to; basically I think we should be largely isolationist; we should help our friends (but be very wary of foreign entanglements) and be ruthless with our enemies.
2) If we're not dependent on the middle east for oil, we don't have to worry about what they're doing. We can support Israel unashamedly as the only true democratic nation in the region, and whose interests are usually aligned with ours.
3) When someone hits us, or our interests abroad, we hit back twice as hard. We invite people who decry us as "bullies" to osculate our posterior, and never apologize.
4) If we go to war, we go with the knowledge that the results are going to be pretty frickin' horrible and resolve to win regardless. Knowing in advance that just about everyone in the world is going to try to depict us as the bad guys, we go in to win it, to the point of sowing the land with salt--and then we leave afterward. (This is meant to be a deterrent to war, so that we only war when it's absolutely necessary or someone commits an act of war against us first. See above, "Tehran".)
5) We stop being policemen to the entire firkin' world. We help with humanitarian crises but it's not our responsibility to fix what's wrong within other countries.
Instead of the other way around.