Chris Christie is still pretending that his presidential hopes aren’t dead, so he will be delivering a foreign policy speech later today:
“The price of inaction is steadily rising,” he will say. “Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi king, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David. Our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them.”
Christie isn’t going anywhere as a presidential candidate, but he must think that he can revive his political fortunes by repeating hard-liners’ talking points. The line about “listening” to Gulf clients is a revealing one. When Christie says that the administration isn’t “listening” to what these client governments want, he is really saying that the administration isn’t giving them everything they desire. In other words, Christie’s complaint against the administration is that it is not deferring often enough to the Saudis et al. and is not allowing them to decide what our policies should be.
It’s true that these governments want things from the U.S. that the U.S. is not prepared to offer. For example, at least some of the GCC states wanted the U.S. to make formal defense treaties with them. That would have been a terrible idea and Congress would probably never have approved, but that is one of the things that some of these clients wanted. Christie’s view that the U.S. should be catering to whatever its clients want means that they should always be indulged and never disappointed. That’s a wonderful deal for the clients, but it has nothing to do with advancing U.S. interests, which is supposed to be the reason why the U.S. has relationships with these awful governments in the first place.
Like any typical hawkish criticism, Christie’s complaint gets things backwards. The U.S. has been doing too much to indulge and cater to these clients as it is. The idea that the U.S. should be doing even more of what they want and should be giving them even more support is deranged. The administration has already backed their dreadful war in Yemen, it continually offers “reassurances” to them that shouldn’t have to be given, and it even encourages their destructive behavior in Syria. Rather than “listening” to the clients’ wish list, the U.S. would be wise to stop aiding its clients in their reckless schemes.
Hawks do not always want the U.S. to defer to its allies and clients, and they’re quite happy to ignore their preferences when it gets in the way of the hawks’ preferred policies. They are mainly interested in making U.S. policies in a given region as aggressive as possible, and so they are only too happy to endorse the views of regional governments that want the U.S. to be more activist on their behalf. The clients scam the U.S. by insisting that they “need” more support, and the hawks here at home repeat these demands as proof that the U.S. needs to “lead” more. It’s a fairly transparent con, but it is unfortunately one that seems to work quite well.