The frequency with which words like “special” enter these conversations that confound me. I desire Israel’s ongoing security and prosperity, and recognize the uniqueness of the threats to it. But I don’t want security and prosperity for Israel any more than I want it for Japan, France, Taiwan, Britain, Poland, Mexico, New Zealand, and India. Why would I? All are democratic peoples.
I understand what Conor is saying here, but I want to challenge him on a few points. First, here are a few notes on the “special” designation. A bilateral relationship between the U.S and another state is deemed “special” mainly by the strongest advocates for that relationship in both countries, which is usually done to exaggerate and overstate the importance of the relationship for both parties. It is often in the relatively weaker state’s interest to overstate its connection to the U.S., and the weaker state will usually have sympathizers here that go out of their way to build up the importance of the weaker state for American security interests. Designating a relationship as “special” can also be an easy way to avoid having to define the tangible benefits that the relationship provides to the U.S., which is particularly useful when the relationship is a liability. It’s in those cases that paeans to “shared values” and “shared history” become useful. This allows supporters of the “special” relationship to make believe that their preferred dependent state is a reliable and valuable “ally” that contribute to U.S. security. Of course, in some cases the “ally” isn’t even a treaty ally at all, and often enough it doesn’t contribute much of anything to U.S. security.
The U.S. has specific treaty obligations to some of the states he lists, and it does not have those obligations to a few of the others. Because the word ally is so overused and applied to almost every non-hostile government, there is a great deal of confusion concerning what these states owe the U.S. and what America owes them. Officially, the U.S. has more of a legal obligation to come to the defense of New Zealand than it does to do the same for Mexico or Taiwan, and India is an occasional partner that is still wary of becoming too closely tied to the U.S. While no one wants to wish any of these countries ill, there are some countries whose security and prosperity matter far more to Americans than others, and the democratic nature of their government has nothing to do with it. Most of America’s numerous dependencies and clients around the world aren’t contributing to American security, and in some cases they are contributing far less to their own region’s security because of their dependency on U.S. protection. It is not the responsibility of the United States to subsidize the defense of foreign democracies.
That is why I want to second Noah Millman’s recommendation when he writes:
A policy of constructive withdrawal implies a policy of promoting the self-sufficiency and effectiveness of our allies.
That entails reducing the number of responsibilities that the U.S. shoulders and likewise reducing the number of dependencies and clients around the world.