The United States’ recent military adventures, including the Iraq War, a seemingly endless nation‐building mission in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration’s drive‐by shooting in Libya, cast doubt on Albright’s perspective. Given our track record, it seems an appropriate time to let the so‐called dummkopfs have a go at addressing security challenges in their respective regions, rather than expecting them to wait for the American cavalry to save them.
After all, U.S. officials actually don’t see very far. They certainly can’t see into the future. Many seem incapable of looking past Step 1. Hillary Clinton boasts, with a laugh, “We came. We saw. He died,” referring to the toppling and subsequent brutal killing of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Her callous disregard for what came after seems neither farsighted nor tall; instead, it comes across as obtuse and petty.
But the observation from the allies and alliances discussion that I found most interesting came in response to a question by frequent TNI contributor Paul Pillar. He asked if the words “ally” and “alliance” had become confused. Might it be time to revisit the standard definition of those terms, and compare them with how they are used today? Who should have the privilege of being called an ally?
This recalled for me a comment from a recent meeting hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, in which former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman pointed out that the United States doesn’t really have allies any more. Ally implies reciprocity, a degree of mutual obligation, of shared interests and shared responsibilities. By that standard, the U.S. doesn’t have allies; we have protectorates—we defend them, and they let us. My Cato colleagues Doug Bandow and Ted Galen Carpenter, among others, would agree.
Mearsheimer observed that there is no single correct definition of the word “ally.” It is used in the context of liberal hegemony as a mark of affirmation. The Clintons and Albrights of the U.S. foreign policy community believe that we should rule the world. They speak of an international community, led by the United States. Thus, the term “ally” is thrown around liberally. Essentially any country that buys into Washington’s hegemonic program, any country willing to go along with the proposition that the United States is and should be the world’s policeman, is an ally.
We can see, then, that for all the talk of free riding, for all those instances when some U.S. government official expresses concern or frustration that allies don’t do more to defend themselves and their interests, it’s just that: talk. For the dominant foreign‐policy community, allies are the equivalent of Facebook friends. U.S. officials count them, rank them, and occasionally thank them. But we don’t ever expect these “allies” to actually do anything for us in return.