Under President Donald Trump's new vision, U.S. troops are no longer just the defenders of American interests around the world; they are quite literally guns for hire. Trump wants to turn U.S. troop deployments overseas into profit centers for the federal government.
He proposes to not only charge foreign governments 100 percent of the cost of basing American military forces in their countries but also to impose a 50 percent surcharge. It might yield some profit, but at what cost for America's global reputation as a defender of freedom?
The Washington Post, quoting Trump's aides, reported that the president wants to dramatically escalate charges under a formula he calls "cost plus 50." The idea presupposes that other countries host U.S. troops solely for their own interests, that they could afford the higher expense Trump would charge them, and that U.S. interests would be better served if deployments were reduced to business transactions.
In a nutshell, this plan would be an unmitigated disaster.
Since the 1940s, U.S. forces have remained in Europe and the Pacific to deter the kinds of military adventurism that led to World War II. The United States' rapid-deployment forces came about after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Today, American forces have basing rights around the Arab world, including a giant naval base in Bahrain that hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet, a big air base in Qatar, and other major facilities in Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Across the Red Sea from Yemen, the tiny African nation of Djibouti hosts a secretive air base used by U.S. Special Operations forces to launch crucial counterterrorism raids against al-Qaida, Islamic State and al-Shabab.
The territorial outlines of Europe today would likely look dramatically different if the United States had not maintained a heavy military presence there since World War II. Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines would probably be answering to Beijing if the United States wasn't standing guard. Without the presence of 28,000 U.S. troops, South Korea would probably be under the control of North Korea's nuclear-armed dictatorship.
Certainly, those countries benefit from this security, and many pay dearly for it — South Korea will begin contributing about $925 million a year to support the U.S. presence.
But Trump speaks derisively in his demand for compensation. "We're no longer the suckers, folks," he told U.S. troops in Iraq on Dec. 26. "The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world."
Reducing U.S. military deployments to a business deal, like charging for a room service, is to ignore the vast national security benefits of doing what only America can do. To paraphrase a popular ad campaign: Maintaining a military presence around the world? Expensive. Protecting global stability and national security? Priceless.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH