As a result of launching The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, we now have many friends throughout the Netherlands and many have passed on a video that the producers of the Dutch TV show “Sunday with Lubach” broadcast that was designed to introduce The Netherlands to America’s new President:
Put together by two Jewish guys from Illinois, Greg Shapiro and Pep Rosenfield, who have lived in the Netherlands for two decades, it is not clear how much it reflects Dutch attitudes. But it raises the question of how the world will perceive the whole “America First” attitude that President Trump is promulgating.
Scholarly critics and journalists critique the phrase because, in its original usage, it was isolationist and anti-Semitic – although notably, the America First Committee, which had spearheaded opposition to the US joining in World War II, often via prominent speeches from Charles Lindbergh, was dissolved three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It is, however, doubtful that the phrase retains that meaning today to President Trump or many Americans. Today, it is more a slogan that means to many Americans that their concerns and their well-being should be preeminent in policy decision-making process used by their own elected representative.
The problem, of course, is that no President would have ever claimed that America was anything other than the first priority. Dating back to the Marshall Plan, what consideration the US showed others was, most often, a form of enlightened self-interest.
Even if President Trump is right that, say, NAFTA has helped Mexico more than America, it is also true that a case can be made that America’s long term economic and security interests are served by a more prosperous neighbor.
Yet, these are not the post-war years. Europe is not impoverished. There is a feeling in America that prosperous countries, such as the Netherlands, could do more but are choosing to not do their share when it comes to investing in the defense of the West:
The Netherlands is no longer cutting on the Defense budget, but NATO is still concerned that too little money is being put into it. At present the Netherlands spends 1.14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product on Defense. Other European NATO countries spends an average of 1.43 percent.
NATO wants the Netherlands to invest more in additional personnel, equipment, training, supplies and support services.
According to Hennis, NATO is concerned that the Netherlands’ week defense spending will lead to ‘other allies providing a disproportionate share of the necessary capacity’.
And it is not just Donald Trump, or even NATO, that have noted this issue:
The most powerful statement was made by the leader of the Dutch liberal party VVD: ‘the Americans paid for our security, while we were building up our welfare state’. Or just to put it in other words, the Netherlands were free riding with the US department of defense.
There are different ways of measuring these things, but the CIA World Factbook says the Netherlands in 2014 was spending just 1.27% of its GDP on defense. In contrast the NATO standard is 2%, the UK spends 2.49%, and the US spends 4.35%.
The Dutch are a gifted people, and they are good at finding opportunities. The video ends with a joke as the Dutch acquiesce to America First but ask that it might be Netherlands Second! Yet it is important to pay less attention to Donald Trump and more attention to the forces that brought him to the presidency.
Have you have ever had a friend who didn’t chip in for his fair share of dinners and outings? And maybe, one day, you just felt that you weren’t being treated fairly in this friendship. A lot of Americans feel that way, and it is not clear why the nations of Europe that are not even meeting the 2% NATO standard would think that situation acceptable.