Gwynne Dyer: How do you get to be an ally of the United States?

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It's bullshit.”Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski, secretly taped in early 2014. Discuss. Use only one side of the paper.

      The publication of Radoslav Sikorski’s comments in the Polish weekly magazine Wprost will not help his bid to become the European Union’s foreign policy chief, but there are senior foreign policy officials elsewhere who might be tempted to make similar remarks (though perhaps not in alcohol-fuelled conversations in well-known restaurants where they might be overheard). And there are those in Washington who are saying the same thing.

      Some, like former Vice-President Dick Cheney—“The policies of the last six years have left America diminished and weakened. Our enemies no longer fear us. Our allies no longer trust us”—are so discredited by their own past blunders that they can be easily dismissed. But some of America’s overseas friends and allies also are quietly dismayed by President Barack Obama’s clear reluctance to send in the troops, or at least the drones.

      Sikorski’s angry remarks can be explained by the date when they were made. It was before the Ukrainian revolution succeeded in overthrowing the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and before the United States responded to Russia’s annexation of Crimea by imposing sanctions on Russian leaders and sending reinforcements to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. He would presumably sing a different song now.

      Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, is undoubtedly now talking much like Sikorski did last winter. After all the horrors that the U.S. invasion inflicted on Iraq in 2003-11, Maliki must feel that he has a right to expect American military help when things start to fall apart at home. But he doesn’t get it.

      Maliki might get U.S. military help if Washington believed that the survival of his regime was a “core national interest” of the United States, as Obama put it in a speech at West Point Military Academy last month, but even then it would be help in carefully measured amounts. Which is to say, no American troops fighting on the ground.

      Well, all right, Obama did send 300 American troops back to Iraq last week, but they are being sent only to train and advise Iraqi troops, not to kill and get killed. He might consider using some drones and cruise missiles too, if Maliki agrees to step aside for someone less divisive—but it would only be a token gesture even then.

      This is because President Obama knows two very important things: The first is that the American public simply will not stand for another large U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. The other is that neither Iraq, nor indeed even Ukraine, is a “core national interest” of the United States.

      “Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” said Obama at West Point, and he has no intention of doing the same thing. Does that mean that the United States has become a “worthless ally”? No, but it does mean that it may not always be a “faithful friend”.

      The distinction is important. An alliance like NATO or the U.S.-Japanese alliance is a formal commitment to fight in support of another country in certain stated circumstances. However, very few wars that the United States has fought in the past fifty years were of that kind. They were “wars of choice”, fought in places where the United States had no legal obligation to fight.

      Back when American power seemed irresistible and American wealth inexhaustible, Washington repeatedly sent US troops into wars that had only the sketchiest relationship with any definable American national interest. From Vietnam to Iraq, it literally did not count the cost. But it does now, and only actual allies can count on the United States showing up when it’s needed.

      How do you get to be an ally of the United States? By being a country whose independence, borders, and/or political orientation are seen by Washington as truly vital American interests. The one exception to this rule is Israel, whose hold on America is more sentimental than strategic, but for everybody else there is a very high threshold.

      Poland actually crosses that threshold, because Russia, the country that obsesses the Poles, remains a major American security concern as well. Ukraine, on the other hand, lies beyond NATO’s security frontier, and not many NATO members would be willing to fight a war with Russia to save it, so Ukraine is not an ally. And Iraq is definitely not an ally.

      Despite the general U.S. obsession with the “terrorist threat”, Obama may actually realize how little the outcome of the current turmoil in Iraq really matters to American security, and Iraq’s oil, post-fracking, is not even a consideration any more. No core American national interests here. So the U.S. cavalry will not be riding over the hill to the rescue.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.


      We're now using Facebook for comments.



      Jun 23, 2014 at 5:34pm

      US willingness to get involved in optional/non-core/let's-test-out-some-of-the-neat-stuff-we've-bought wars is very much a cyclical phenomenon, mainly conditioned by the perceived success or failure of the previous conflict.

      The Iraq and Afghanistan adventures were underpinned by the confidence resulting from the clear cut victory in the first Gulf war in 1991, which itself was buoyed by the successful invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989–90.

      The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been perceived as successes (and nor should they be), so it's natural that there should be reluctance to get US forces involved in foreign fighting at the moment.

      It won't last.

      I Chandler

      Jun 23, 2014 at 6:46pm

      'The policies of the last six years have left America diminished and weakened. Our enemies no longer fear us. Our allies no longer trust us'

      Remember Kissinger’s pithy quip, “it’s more dangerous being America’s ally than its enemy.”

      "From Vietnam to Iraq, it literally did not count the cost."
      Cost? Dick Cheney's KBR cost $39.5 billion for the last Iraq war.

      "Some, like former Vice-President Dick Cheney are so discredited by their own past blunders that they can be easily dismissed...

      Dismissed? One would think the neocons who engineered the war – the worst disaster for the US since Vietnam – would never emerge from hiding - but didn't the Wall Street Journal print Cheney's bloviation? - so discredited...Eric Margolis writes:

      "Cheney's violent diatribe against Obama that would've made Mussolini blush....The Saudis are openly warning Obama not to intervene in Iraq. Iran is sending in ground forces, to the fury of Saudi Arabia and Israel..."

      Eric Margolis also writes:
      "Interestingly, Obama finds himself in the same type of imperial dilemma faced by Britain’s PM Gladstone in 1885. In that year, Britain’s imperial general Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon went to Khartoum, Sudan, to lead the fight against Islamic jihadists known as Dervishes. Their leader, Mohammed Ahmed, aka the Mahdi, became a paramount Victorian villain akin to our era’s Osama bin Laden.
      Gordon was trying to shame Gladstone into sending a British Army up the Nile to relieve Khartoum. Like Obama, Gladstone wanted to avoid imperial adventures but was eventually forced by jingoistic public outcry to send an army to Sudan, though not before Gordon was killed and became a Victorian Christian martyr. The fall of Khartoum to the Dervishes was the 9/11 of the Victorian Age.
      What’s really at stake here is oil. Some 8,000 jihadists and resurgent Ba’ath Party militants are no threat to the US, as Obama claims. They are, however, a dire threat to Big Oil."

      I Chandler

      Jun 23, 2014 at 6:57pm

      "Ukraine is not an ally. And Iraq is definitely not an ally."

      Is Saudi Arabia an ally? It's amazing how the sock puppets have avoidrd any mention of the Saudis... The Saudis are openly warning Obama not to intervene in Iraq.


      Jun 23, 2014 at 8:44pm

      Canada has a special relationship with the US. As does the UK, and Israel of course. Nor should we forget our NAFTA partners Mexico. And Saudi Arabia is special for obvious reasons. As are Germany and Japan. And South Korea. Even Russia and China have a special set of understandings with them. Meanwhile Cuba, Iran and North Korea receive special attention.

      Come to think of it, a lot of countries have a special relationship with the US.

      I Chandler

      Jun 24, 2014 at 11:02pm

      Australia might be considered to be an ally of the United States? But being an ally didn't stop the CIA from overthrowing the Australian government. The Australians should have known a coup was coming when Marshall Green named as US Ambassador to Australia - he had a rap sheet:

      The CIA had infiltrated the Australian Secret Service and other government institutions.
      Former CIA officer Marchetti says it best: "in essence this is like the old days in Europe where the nobility of various countries had more in common with each other than they did with their own people. This is true of intelligence services. They tend to have more in common with each other and their establishments which they represent than they do with their own people.

      "Gwynne Dyer: How do you get to be an ally of the United States?"

      A: You get to be an ally of the US by
      1) Supporting US foreign policy - wars,coups
      2) Hosting US military bases and signing a military base agreement
      3) Attracting foreign investment in natural resources
      4) Signing trade deals and banking on Wall Street
      Australia caused the overthrow their government by
      -Withdrawing Australian troops from Vietnam and recognizing Vietnam by opening an embassy.
      -Not cooperating with the CIA in covert operations in East Timor...
      - Financing the construction of a natural gas pipeline by borrowing money from MidEast banks instead of forming a business partnership by attracting foreign investment: