America’s alliances: Time for a second look?

This week the moderators of the National Journal’s national-security blog asked the following question: “Are America’s Alliances Fraying?” It seems to me the answer is yes, and that they ought to be fraying. Most were created to serve U.S. interests in America’s half-century confrontation with the Soviet Union, and so their main reason for existence ended in 1991. This fundamental change, however, has not been reflected in Washington’s diplomacy no matter which party is governing. Indeed, as noted below, our diplomats are still actively seeking new alliances and relationships for America, many of which seem more dangerous than beneficial.

For a nation born in a revolutionary war led by men who had an enormous amount to lose if the war was lost, our current political leaders are extraordinarily hidebound and averse to upsetting the foreign-policy status quo, even if such a disruption would benefit America. As I try to point out below, many of our enduring Cold War-era alliances are more burdens then blessings and surely merit reevaluation aimed at overhaul or termination. To leave America open to the chance of being obligated to fight in some other country’s war because of an alliance that has outlived its usefulness is not wise policy. It is time, I think, to consult the Founders and take a long and hard second look at our alliances.

(NB: The following piece is different in only one way from that which was posted at In the piece below I added our alliance with Japan as one that is worth keeping at this point in time. I had forgotten to include it in the original draft.)

Let ’em fray, Let ’em fray to hell

For America, the keys to sovereignty, independence of action, and wars fought only for genuine national interests are to avoid formal alliances whenever possible and establish non-intervention as the country’s default response to international affairs. “Friends with all, allies with almost none” may well be a good synopsis of the conditions for which U.S. diplomats should aim.

As noted by other contributors, the Cold War put a premium on concluding alliances with as many countries as we could, with NATO as primus inter pares. But the reality is that Mutually Assured Destruction and skilled U.S. and British leaders, not NATO and the other alliances, prevented a war between the United States and the USSR. Nonetheless, we have since 1991 treated NATO and the others as somehow sacrosanct when they are really more burden than blessing. We are still in Afghanistan, for example, at least in part because we took the continental NATO countries with us and they proved for the most part militarily useless and eager to placate those in need of killing. Overall, America’s alliances today range from a few worth keeping for the long run — Britain, Canada, and Australia — to a few that are vital to U.S. interests at the moment — Pakistan, Japan, and South Korea — to a large number are that can only be attributed to the U.S. federal government’s spendthrift ways, moral cowardice, corruption, and immunity to reality.

In the latter category, for example, we find our alliances with Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf tyrannies. They give us access to oil and loans as long as we turn a blind eye to their spreading of an imperialistic and martial form of Islam that slowly but surely is undermining stability and social cohesion in countries around the world. We are also committed to defend the borders of any number of Eastern European countries for reasons that are far from clear. And we have something often referred to as an alliance with gangster-run Mexico that allows us to purchase oil while its government pushes its unwanted poor illegally across the border into the United States to torment and bankrupt the citizens of the Southwest, and then organizes them to support the U.S. political party most willing to do Mexico’s bidding.

The alliance with Israel, of course, is no such thing. The federal executive and legislative branches and much of the media are the owned by Israel and its U.S.-citizen supporters; note the shameful silence of Obama, his cabinet, and all 535 legislators as the Israel First crowd and its media shills lynched Helen Thomas for daring to use her 1st Amendment rights. As a result, America is consigned to follow a one-way path to endless war on Israel’s behalf with all the Muslim world. And besides these alliances, the men and women we elect are out their hunting for more crippling alliances and relationships, such as laboring to get Georgia into NATO, supporting the theft of land from Serbia to create an independent Kosovo; and a slobbering, pathetic pandering to India that does little but turn Pakistan against us and push South Asia closer to a nuclear confrontation.

The question can be asked, of course, is the problem with the idea of alliances or is it with the kind of alliances we choose to pursue? As noted there are alliances worth having, most especially those the United States has with the world’s major English-speaking countries. But the value of even those will erode as the politically correct governments of each cling ever more strongly to the poisons of multiculturalism and diversity. These crackpot theories do nothing but shatter social cohesion, negate the pursuit of excellence and achievement based on merit, reduce leadership to a constant subordination of political principles and national interests to the quest for votes from those who come to the America, Australia, Canada, and Britain without intent to assimilate, and instead inject their own long traditions of corruption, law-breaking, and sectarianism into once stable and productive economies and societies.

Generally speaking the American way of making alliances — mostly bribery outside the English-speaking world and pandering to oil-rich tyrants — is pointless. Those so-called partners are happy to take our protection and money but when push comes to shove — as when there is a necessary war to fight — they want to dig wells, build roads, and stay safely in their fortified compounds. But that is a lesson worth learning, and the reality is that the major reason we have lost in Iraq and Afghanistan is not because our allies would not fight, but rather because our governing elite and general officers — all trained, as Colonel Lang says, in the best universities — know nothing of history, religion, the imperfectability of human nature, and what happens to dilettantes who dabble at war with no intention of winning. We will reap the whirlwind for that and when the reaping begins our allies will be nowhere to be found.

The greater danger, I think, is when we inevitably find that the shoe is on the other foot and we are obligated to fight exhausting/disastrous wars for one of another of our so-called allies and friends. What if the Georgians finally goad the Russians into a repeat invasion? What if the Serbs decide to retake the land that is lawfully theirs? What if the Turks and the “new” Iraq go at it over Kurdistan? What happens when the Israelis unite the Muslim world against the United States and the Arab regimes that abet Israel by attacking Iran (or Syria or Lebanon or …)? What happens when, in the ultimate nightmare scenario, China acts to reabsorb Taiwan? Do we really want our armed forces involved in wars that are none of our concern but on which our diplomats have ensured we will spend blood and treasure? Will the American people brook wars for Kosovo’s independence or for Israel’s territorial ambitions and self-imagined religious destiny? You can bet the day is coming when we will find out.

It always is wise, I think, to seek advice from men who knew what they were doing. These happen to be the same men our oh-so-smart political leaders ignore, when they are not denouncing them as dead white men. “My policy has been and will continue to be,” President Washington said, “to be on friendly terms with, but independent of, all nations on earth. To share in the broils of none. To supply their wants, and be carriers for them all; being thoroughly convinced that it is our policy and interest to do so; and that nothing short of self-respect, and that justice which is essential to a national character, ought to involve us in war.” Looking at today’s world and the net result of U.S. alliance-making one must conclude that our leaders have scorned the Master of Mount Vernon, turning his advice on its head to ensure that we “share in the broils of all.”

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.