There is a difference between "America First" and "America Only."
I have no problem with the former. But, we should be very wary of the latter.
The world according to President Donald Trump requires there be no "win-win" deals. If it's a win-win, then he knows he could have squeezed you harder and made a better deal for himself.
That might be a great operating theory when building casinos in Atlantic City, but it is not a workable option for dealing with the other 195 nations on the Earth.
Does it cost billions to have our troops stationed around the globe? Sure it does. What's the other option? Bring them all home, silly, everyone understands that.
If we need those troops in Europe, or in the Middle East, or in Asia isn't it better to have the pre-positioned in Europe, or in the Middle East, or in Asia than having to start them from Missouri or North Carolina, or California, closing down Interstate Highways for months at a time to allow trucks carrying everything from tanks to toilet paper from somewhere deep within the United States to a port on one coast or the other for shipment to the hot zone?
As an example: Should our NATO allies pay their fair share? Sure. Will their individual shares be as big as our share? Probably not.
But, that is a side issue that can, and should, be negotiated among the parties with military and diplomatic staffs hammering it out. Using NATO as a political piñata, as President Trump did a couple of weeks ago, is the epitome of Trump's negotiating strategy: Me, all me, and only me.
NATO has been in existence since 1949. Under the terms, we get to pre-position our assets where we - WE - think they will do the most good for us. For the price of it, Germany, Italy, France, Poland and the other 24 members get to huddle under a military umbrella largely (but not totally) constructed of America materials and personnel.
Americans do this all the time. Why should, for instance, a home owner in New Orleans have a part of his or her federal income taxes go to pay for programs promulgated by the Appalachian Regional Commission to help homeowners - to pick a place at random - in Marietta, Ohio 45750?
Good question. Same one that can be asked, why should homeowners in Appalachia be forced to have their hard won tax dollars used to bail out (literally) New Orleans when it floods after a hurricane has breached the levies?
It's because of that pesky national motto "e pluribus unum" - Out of many, one.
Do we whine about the fact that Appalachia for too long depended on fossil fuels - coal, oil, and gas - as its economic underpinnings? Sure.
Do we whine about the fact that New Orleans is, in some places, as much as seven feet below sea level? Of course.
But since well before its official founding, people living in what is now the United States have traditionally pitched in to help a neighbor in need. They didn't demand anything - not counting
Hopalong Cassidy movies when the land baron demanded tribute for access to water in 117 consecutive films - except the implied promise that if the situation were reversed, the aided parties would ride to the rescue of the aiding parties.
America - largely since World War I - has been the international counter-balance to bad actors.
In May 2001, the United Nations' Human Rights Commission had four countries competing for three Western vacancies. They voted for France, Austria and Sweden, leaving George W. Bush's United States standing in the hallway.
Lots of laughing and sneering at George W. at that evening's diplomatic cocktail parties.
One year later. After a year of the Human Rights Council without the US, as the LA Times put it:
"Human rights violators increasingly seem to dominate the composition of the commission and have been able to sharply limit the focus on individual countries."
Without the moral weight of the United States, the UN Commission was not just dysfunctional, but was able to officially ignore bad behavior.
Should we be in the UN? Yes. Should we be paying 22% of its budget? Probably not.
But, again those are not necessarily binary issues. We can stay in the UN and negotiate a better deal without shutting down the entire organization.
Dear Mr. President …
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to NATO membership, to the history of our national motto, to the US being voted off and back onto the HRC and to the US share of the UN Budget.
The Mullfoto is of a near miss in marketing on a food truck outside my office.