The United States deployed troops to Europe in 1917 to defeat Imperial Germany during World War I, and then again, after the vindictive Treaty of Versailles, to defeat Nazi Germany in 1942 during World War II. One palpable result of Woodrow Wilsons and Franklin Roosevelts interventions on the continent was the occupation of eastern Europe and half of Germany by the Soviet Union, a U.S. ally against Adolph Hitler. That occupation, which would last 45 years, was ratified at the 1945 Yalta and Potsdam conferences with President Roosevelt and President Harry Truman, respectively, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.The Soviet presence provided justification for American troops to stay in Europe to bolster the new NATO alliance and ostensibly to contain the communist power. In the name of prosecuting the Cold War, the U.S. initiated the Marshall Plan, an American aid program to rebuild western Europe; financial assistance to Greece (the Truman Doctrine) to protect it from Soviet hegemony; and continuing open and covert intervention.
Despite the Cold War rationale, the U.S. failed to bring home its troops after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact bloc, 1989-91. Rather, it has expanded NATO to include former Warsaw Pact nations. With a new mission being found each time the old one evaporated, the policy of maintaining influence in Europe seemed unrelated to any specific threat to the security of the American people. The policy perhaps saved Europeans from the monetary cost of keeping large armies, but that cost was shifted to Americans. The consequent impact on individual liberty was rationalized as necessary to keep the United States and its allies safe. Yet as time goes by, this looks less and less persuasive.
If unrelated to American security, what is the object of the policy? More likely, it is intended to remind the Europeans that the United States is the senior partner in the leadership of the free world (Europeans troops are not stationed in the United States), to provide bases closer to geopolitical trouble spots, such as the Middle East and Central Asia, and to keep down a Germany that has learned its lessons from two world wars and has been a responsible world citizen for more than 50 years.
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