As with so many other foreign-policy matters, there is room and reason for the United States to reassess its policy toward Europe. That policy was stable throughout the Cold War: support of anything that assisted the Western Europeans in being better Cold Warriors. The destruction of World War II and related conflicts such as the Spanish, Yugoslav, and Greek civil wars left all Europe from Castile to Leningrad and Stalingrad — except for Switzerland, parts of France, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, and pockets around Prague and Vienna — largely smashed to rubble and depopulated of young men. Tens of millions of people had been displaced. In such desolation and chaos, the advance of Western Europe’s Communist parties was a real danger. So was the proximity of Stalin’s mighty Red Army, only 100 miles from the Rhine, after he had violated every clause of the Yalta agreement, especially the guarantees of democracy and autonomy in Poland and “Liberated Europe.”
The United States developed the policy of containment: The West would not provoke or confront the USSR, but would assist threatened states against external intimidation and externally directed subversion. This became the Truman Doctrine, starting with Greece and Turkey, and was soon broadened to the Marshall Plan of economic recovery and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the most successful long-term alliance in history.
For 40 years, the United States was engaged in trying to impart courage to the Europeans. There were constant temptations to and from the leftist parties throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, France, and Italy (in the last two, the local Communist parties routinely polled over 20 percent of the vote, and waffly socialists another 10 or 15 percent, until the Eighties). These could always be easily distracted by Soviet pitches for “neutrality.” The Americans carried most of the defense commitment and steadily complained of uneven “burden-sharing.” The European reply was a specious improvisation that because Western Europe was closer to the Soviet bloc, it was at greater risk, so the Americans should compensate by providing most of the manpower and hardware. American strength, which much of Europe resented, enabled Europe to be weak and yet to remain free.
Many of the Europeans not only suspected the Americans of wishing to confine any conflict with the Soviet bloc to Europe, thus sparing America, but effectively proposed retention of the U.S. (and Canadian) guarantee of Western Europe, while edging far enough away from the Americans to make any Soviet-American dispute one that would be conducted directly between them, if need be, literally over the heads of the Europeans in the high altitudes of advanced weapons systems.