Embrace US allies, not authoritarian adversaries | News Coverage from USA

Embrace US allies, not authoritarian adversaries

opinion

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings commemorates a decisive turning point in the Allied victory in World War II. As Americans, we owe an everlasting debt of gratitude to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who on June 6, 1944, launched what their commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, called the “Great Crusade” to liberate Europe from the evil of the Nazi regime.  

Tens of thousands of young Americans risked everything in the greatest amphibious invasion in history to pierce Adolph Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and free the French people. One of them was my uncle, Bob Mills, a 25-year-old private first class in the elite 82nd Airborne Division. One of five Mills brothers from Auburn, Massachusetts, who fought in the war (all of them survived), he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought through France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany until the defeat of the Nazi regime in May 1945.  

These young Americans were thrown into a global war whose outcome was not at all preordained.  A worried President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Americans to pray alongside him in a national radio address. “Almighty God,” he began, “our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true. … They will need thy blessings.” 

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The D-Day landings succeeded in large part due to America’s prodigious military strength. They also succeeded because of our Allies — the British and Canadian forces who invaded the Normandy coast with us. Their ingenuity, courage and power was an instrumental part of the Allied victory.

FDR’s generation — men like Gen. George Marshall, Vice President Harry Truman and Eisenhower himself — had witnessed firsthand as younger men America’s refusal to join the League of Nations after World War I. That meant the United States was not a factor in the global power balance in Europe during the 1930s to help stop fascist leaders Hitler and Benito Mussolini from starting the greatest conflagration in history — one that cost more than 60 million lives. 

NATO turned US into a global power

FDR was determined not to make the same mistake as the Second World War drew to a close. He birthed the idea of a United Nations that would prevent the outbreak of another world war. The subsequent creation of NATO (now including Canada and 27 European allies) and our East Asian alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand made America a global power. The policy of every administration since FDR’s has been remarkably uniform — maintain permanent alliances overseas to defend U.S. interests and to keep the peace.

The United States became the undisputed global power due to the strength of our military and economy, but also due to our unrivaled alliances. Our allies make us stronger and more effective in the world than we would be on our own. They serve as force multipliers for American influence. They are also the great power differential between the United States and its chief rivals. Russia and China have no such allies they can count on.

We can certainly count on ours.  As a former American ambassador to NATO, I will always be grateful for how the allies helped us when we needed it most on 9/11. After the al-Qaida terrorists attacked the United States, allied ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels came to me to pledge their support. We invoked the Article 5 collective defense clause of the NATO treaty the following day. They went into Afghanistan to fight with us. They are still with us there today and have fought with us in the global campaign against the Islamic State. They are helping us to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.    

Trump embraces authoritarians over allies

Donald Trump is the first American president in 75 years to be openly critical and even dismissive of these same allies. He has refused to commit that he will defend them if attacked as they defended us on 9/11. He has even considered withdrawing from NATO altogether.

At a time when democracy has been under assault in Europe, Trump has sided with anti-democratic leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over our genuine democratic friends such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  At the same time, Trump has been largely uncritical of authoritarian leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, China’s Xi Jingping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In effect, Trump has taken a carefully calibrated, bipartisan and effective policy pursued by all our presidents (to embrace our allies and thwart our adversaries) and turned it on its head. 

Americans learned a great lesson on D-Day — that we need friends and allies to defend our country in a dangerous world. The Allied landings 75 years ago succeeded because of British, Canadian and American efforts in a meticulously planned joint project.  

Winston Churchill’s own World War II experience led him to reflect upon a golden truth still relevant in our time: “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”

Nicholas Burns is a Harvard professor and former undersecretary of State who served presidents of both parties in his foreign service career. His positions over a 27-year period included U.S. ambassador to NATO. Follow him on Twitter: @RNicholasBurns

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