Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
When Obama was president, hawkish foreign policy pundits and analysts promoted the fiction that he “abandoned” allies and “rewarded” adversaries. This was one of Romney’s main campaign themes in 2012. Their answer to this imaginary problem was that the U.S. should seek to have “no daylight” with its “allies” (by which they almost always meant just Israel and Saudi Arabia). Romney once went so far as to say that there should not be “an inch of difference” between the US and Israel, and applied this standard to all US relationships with its “friends and allies”:
You don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and allies.
Romney’s dumb position in 2012 had become the more or less default hawkish view in the next presidential campaign. The hawks held that public criticism of these governments was a mistake that harmed US interests, and they argued that the US should be supporting these states far more than Obama had done. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that they thought the appropriate US response to any controversy involving a US“ally” was to offer knee-jerk support.
The hawkish criticism of Obama was wrong in several ways. First, Obama wasn’t abandoning or neglecting these clients. He was already mistakenly backing them to the hilt and arming them to the teeth throughout his presidency. US backing for the war on Yemen began under Obama and continued for almost two years while he was president. That was his greatest foreign policy mistake, and it will be a permanent blot on his legacy. Second, USindulgence of reckless clients has not resulted in better outcomes for the region, but instead just encouraged the clients to do whatever they wanted regardless of the consequences. That has meant more bloodshed, instability, and needless suffering for millions of people. Third, these states were not and never have been treaty allies, so the US is under no obligation to defend them, much less indulge their every preference. Finally, the interests of the US and its clients’ interests have increasingly been diverging in the last decade, so when the US goes out of its way to indulge its clients it is frequently doing so at the expense of its own interests.
Trump endorsed these erroneous hawkish criticisms of Obama’s record and sought to undo what Obama had supposedly done. If Obama had been too “tough” on Israel and Saudi Arabia, he would be the most indulgent panderer who gave them whatever they desired in exchange for nothing. This has contributed to destructive behavior by both states, including the ongoing shooting of unarmed protesters in Gaza and the routine targeting of civilians in Yemen among other things, and it has gained the US absolutely nothing. Both governments know that the administration isn’t going to object to anything they do, and as long as they keep flattering Trump they are apparently going to be able to get away with whatever they want. Enablingreckless clientsimplicates our government in their wrongdoing, and it puts the US in the absurd position of covering for behavior that has already damaged America’s reputation and harmed our interests.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.