PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE: TRUMP WANTS CASH FOR TROOPS

Being a US ally might soon get a lot more expensive. The Trump administration is reportedly preparing a plan that would force countries not only to pay for the full cost of hosting American troops on their territory, but also to pony up an additional 50 percent premium on that bill for the security that the US soldiers provide. Under those terms, some countries will pay as much as six times the amount they currently pay.

To put this in perspective, US troops are stationed in more than 100 countries around the world. There are 56,000 American soldiers in Japan, 35,000 in Germany, 28,500 in South Korea, 12,000 in Italy, and 9,000 in the UK.

The leak of this plan may merely be the opening bid in a series of tough negotiations, but let's take it at face value.


The Argument For

Those in Washington who favor this plan, led by Donald Trump, are asking a few simple questions:

  • World War Two ended almost 75 years ago, so why is the United States still responsible for guaranteeing the security of Germany and Japan, which are now among the richest countries on Earth?
  • Isn't it true that Germany and Japan have become prosperous in part because US protection allows them to avoid spending billions on their own defense?
  • If US troops and taxpayers must continue to accept this responsibility, shouldn't countries that benefit from the US presence pay fully for the privilege?
  • Are those who live in these countries and would be happy to see US troops leave prepared for their governments to take much more money from their paychecks while cutting their pensions and benefits to pay more for defense?

The Argument Against

Those who oppose the plan offer the following answers:

  • The US isn't simply doing other countries a favor by placing its troops on their soil – those soldiers deliver geopolitical benefits that can't be measured in dollars and cents. US bases in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the Middle East make the US a force to be reckoned with in all key regions of the world. Chip away at that, and others will try to fill the gap.
  • Raise the cost to allies and watch how fast taxpayers in these countries push for the Americans to leave. You might not think that's in their interest, but many of them may well think otherwise.
  • The United States benefits economically, politically, and militarily from stability in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. That stability depends on the willingness of the only nation capable of projecting military power into every region to play a leadership role in keeping the peace.

If President Trump moves forward with this plan, the next important question might be equally simple: What happens if allies refuse to pay?

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.