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A “Most Cherished Ally” That Isn’t Even an Ally

Earlier this week I mentioned that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence repeatedly called [1] Israel “our most cherished ally” in a speech he gave during his visit there. I called [2] that claim risible, and it is is, but it is such an inaccurate statement that it deserves a little more comment. American politicians from both parties frequently feel compelled to express excessive enthusiasm for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that relationship is always described in terms of an alliance, but that doesn’t describe the relationship very well at all. The U.S. gains almost nothing from the relationship, there is no formal treaty that commits either state to the defense of the other, and one would be hard-pressed to think of anything that Israel has done that would make the U.S. more secure as a result of this relationship. So it is a mistake to call Israel an ally.

If Israel’s isn’t really an ally, it certainly can’t be the “most cherished” one that the U.S. has. I it were technically an ally, it would still be a mistake to exaggerate its importance in this way. The U.S. gets very little from the relationship at some considerable cost, and the relationship is far less valuable for U.S. security than our relationships with genuine treaty allies. It would be much more accurate to say that Israel is one of our more troublesome clients that is becoming an ever-greater liability to the U.S. as time goes by. The U.S.-Israel relationship would be less dysfunctional and possibly more constructive if our politicians and policymakers stopped lying to themselves and to the rest of us about the importance of that relationship for the U.S.

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31 Comments To "A “Most Cherished Ally” That Isn’t Even an Ally"

#1 Comment By Raw Deal On January 2, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

“one would be hard-pressed to think of anything that Israel has done that would make the U.S. more secure as a result of this relationship”

I’ll say. Almost every terror attack against the US is accompanied by a diatribe about our relationship with Israel. And when the real fighting started back in 2002/2003 it became all too clear that Israel would be no use to us militarily, giving the lie to all the solemn assurances we were given back in the 80s and 90s about what a strategic asset Israel would prove to be.

Instead nothing. Nada. Zilch. We bought a white elephant on a three billion dollar a year installment plan.

#2 Comment By SFBay On January 2, 2015 @ 6:34 pm

“The U.S.-Israel relationship would be less dysfunctional and possibly more constructive if our politicians and policymakers stopped lying to themselves and to the rest of us about the importance of that relationship for the U.S.”

They might be lying to the voters, but they have to know these are lies. At least I hope they’re smart enough and take the time to know.

#3 Comment By Hetzer On January 2, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

I think the phrase is dangerously over-sentimental, but is there any country you would consider the US’s “most cherished” or at least “best” or “closest”?

It is obvious that it isn’t Israel. Would it be the UK or maybe Canada? I’m hard pressed to think of a country I would choose for that.

#4 Comment By William Rombola On January 2, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

Shouldn’t “Most Cherished Ally” status be reserved for a country that hasn’t attacked our armed forces in the last fifty years or so?

#5 Comment By Michael N Moore On January 2, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

How about “imperial colony”? Or “junkyard dog for the Suez Canal”?

#6 Comment By Neal On January 2, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

I was struck by an aside from David Brooks in his NY Times column today.


He wrote: “I’m visiting Israel for the 18th or 19th time (my son is currently a member of the Lone Soldiers Program, which allows people from around the world to serve in the Israeli military).”

Now… I’m not a religious person. I have no religious affinity for Israel or any other country on that basis alone. I’m an american by birth. All my parents and grandparents are american by birth. Their parents and grandparents were from Ireland and from what today is northwest Germany or Netherlands. But I have no particular affinity for Ireland, Germany, or the Netherlands. I am an American.

But Mr. Brooks and his family seem to have some other loyalty. That’s fine. I have no problem with that; but it definitely makes me question his worth as an observer of American politics and policy. This is the problem with our relationship with that most cherished ally. Who are they? And who are their advocates here in America? Why should we trust them? Why does the NY Times have as its top opinion columnist someone who does not necessarily think of himself and his children as American?

Is that right? Does a person whose child serves the military of another country (by affirmative choice!!!) have the best interests of America as their first priority?

Mr. Larison suggests: “The U.S.-Israel relationship would be less dysfunctional and possibly more constructive if our politicians and policymakers stopped lying to themselves and to the rest of us about the importance of that relationship for the U.S.”

I must disagree. The politicians and policymakers are not lying to anyone. Perhaps they, like David Brooks and his child, simply have another loyalty. Have we all simply been blind to this all along? I certainly have. I’m frankly stunned by this revelation by Mr. Brooks and the matter of fact nature of it.

If people who have some religious affinity for another culture wish to fight for it, that is their right. Whether they be Israeli or Jihadi… they are free to fight for their faith. But we must also consider the fact of their allegiance when listening to their opinions.

#7 Comment By BigT On January 2, 2015 @ 8:26 pm

The Five Eyes group of trusted countries includes UK, Canada, US, Australia, and New Zealand… no mention of Israel. Places where things get done in government know who can likely be most trusted and who is likely our friend…


#8 Comment By jagneel On January 2, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

It is clear that without US support, Israel, perhaps would not be able to continue its policies such as settlement expansions, beating up palestinians etc.

Question: What does USA gets out of it?

Even the most ardent supporters of Israel must cringe at the sight of politicians (esp. GOP) and media (esp. Faux News) stumbling over each other
to support Israel.

Any politician who dares to show any reticence to shed american blood or money in support of Israel is in danger of being labeled as an anti-Semite. (Ok this one is little hyperbolic, only a little)

NO I AM NOT A MUSLIM OR ARAB OR one of those who hate Israel.

#9 Comment By by the numbers On January 2, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

Difficult to know what Pence means, either by “cherished” or by “ally”. Maybe he’s just another elite politico who’s out of touch with the American people, like Rubio.

As far as measured US public opinion goes, it’s Canada, UK, Germany and Japan. Hands down. And as you point out, these countries are actual allies of the United States, unlike Israel:


#10 Comment By a spencer On January 3, 2015 @ 3:36 am

arriving late to reiterate what others have said:

Canada is the USA’s strongest ally. Don’t even have to agree all the time. And we don’t. But its really not even close.

#11 Comment By icarusr On January 3, 2015 @ 11:03 am

a spencer, Hetzer and BigT:

From this Canadian, a brief reminder:


158 were killed, including several by US “friendly fire”. Canada was involved in offensive operations for the first time since Korea, and for the first time as part of NATO. That is, as part of its alliance with the United States: this is because the United States invoked Article 5, which is the mutual defence provision of the Washington Treaty:


For more on Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan:


And then there is this old chestnut: 5525 miles of undefended border:


Just to be clear, we do not want to be known as your “most cherished ally” or whatever. Indeed, every time I hear that, I am reminded of Wilde’s “The Devoted Friend”:

‘Little Hans had a great many friends, but the most devoted friend of all was big Hugh the Miller. Indeed, so devoted was the rich Miller to little Hans, that he [Hans] would never go by his garden without leaning over the wall and plucking a large nosegay, or a handful of sweet herbs, or filling his pockets with plums and cherries if it was the fruit season.

‘”Real friends should have everything in common,” the Miller used to say, and little Hans nodded and smiled, and felt very proud of having a friend with such noble ideas.

‘Sometimes, indeed, the neighbours thought it strange that the rich Miller never gave little Hans anything in return, though he had a hundred sacks of flour stored away in his mill, and six milk cows, and a large stock of woolly sheep; but Hans never troubled his head about these things, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to all the wonderful things the Miller used to say about the unselfishness of true friendship.


And certainly we have no interest whatever in your ignoramus governors and Senators coming over and expostulating on international or, for that matter, domestic matters. You can keep Pence and Paul and Rubio and Jindal, thank you very much.

But a tiny bit of perspective is a good thing from time to time.

#12 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On January 3, 2015 @ 12:30 pm

A timely remind of our standing among Israelis is the stoning of our consular staff by Israeli settler/land thieves. Apparently the settler thieves were affronted by our people’s interest in their latest vandalism of Palestinian tree plantings.


#13 Comment By IL Reader On January 3, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

Why would Pence needlessly insult the large majority of Americans who regard Canada or the UK as America’s “most cherished ally” with a statement like this?

For that matter, is it possible that someone running for President of the United States really doesn’t know that both Germany and Japan (once implacable World War II opponents, now treaty allies) are better regarded by Americans than Israel?

If so, he not only doesn’t understand foreign affairs, he doesn’t even understand the country he proposes to lead. We know how that story ends.

#14 Comment By a spencer On January 3, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

howdy, neighbor!


#15 Comment By Tyson’s Corner On January 3, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

“How about “imperial colony”?”

Which empire do you mean?

These days most Israelis come from the old Soviet empire, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the like. Not exactly the kind of people disposed to regard the America is their “most cherished ally”.

#16 Comment By Emilio On January 3, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

American mythology is remarkably similar to the Israeli mythology, and they serve as points of contact for our national identities that are very hard to break. To Mike Pence, the “cherished” Israeli allies are beleaguered pioneers in a savage wilderness, building a new world. It’s going to take a lot to invalidate this sentiment, nor is it clear to me that it’s even possible, nor that it ultimately should be.

The best way is to broaden the topic without of trying to fight something that’s built to last. We have the beneficent informal influence of American Jews coupled with moderately applied foreign policy. Rescinding their status as allies is simply not moderate, and reminds me of our hawks who often say the same of France.

Pence is embarrassing, but his appeal is well-grounded, and draws from the exact same well that the solution will come from. He has to learn how to cherish Palestinians more, not Israelis less.

#17 Comment By Up Stakes and Git On January 4, 2015 @ 4:02 am

What precious language. “Our most cherished ally.”

Most Americans couldn’t place Israel on a map even if you told them it was in the Middle East.

Emilio wrote: “American mythology is remarkably similar to the Israeli mythology, and they serve as points of contact for our national identities that are very hard to break.”

No harder than breaking those with South Africa, whose “mythology” was closer to ours in having western European, Protestant Christian origins, as opposed to Israel’s Asiatic and eastern European Jewish ones. And in the end, Israel’s mythology has carried it even further down the path of violence against those it subjugates; for example, I can’t recall S. Africa launching fighter jet strikes against civilian targets in the bantustans.

Indeed, when we break with Israel it may well be for reasons similar to those leading up to the isolation, boycott and embargo of S. Africa. If you like, think of it as a rejection of part of our own “mythology”. We’re not Indian fighters or slaveholders anymore. We helped disabuse white South Africans of similar dreams, as well as those of racial and religious purity. But the Israelis still dream the poison dream and recruit more poison dreamers from among the angry, resentful, dispossessed and frightened Jewry of the godless former Soviet Union every year. 2014 yielded a bumper crop.

“He has to learn how to cherish Palestinians more, not Israelis less.”

That would be nice.

But this isn’t about achieving some satisfying psychic balance by according Israelis and Palestinians their human due.

It’s about ending a vicious cycle of failure, catastrophe and fresh crises in the Middle East that has badly damaged us. It’s about disentangling ourselves and getting out.

#18 Comment By TS On January 4, 2015 @ 4:38 am

Congress votes to send $3 billion in aid to Israel every year. One of the biggest sources of campaign contributions to congresspeople seeking reelection is money raised by Jewish organizations. Perhaps some of that $3 billion in aid is sent back to the U.S. in the form of donations to Congresspeople? That would certainly make Israel a “special” and “important” relationship for those seeking reelection. Just, not the rest of us.

#19 Comment By Basil On January 4, 2015 @ 9:18 am

If memory serves, Australia has been involved alongside American troops in every major military conflict the USA has engaged in since the end of WWII, including Vietnam, which Canada did not engage in, not to mention Israel. Surely they deserve some kudos?

#20 Comment By Richard Parker On January 4, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

I have to say it again: Canada (In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was Canadian.)

Israel: Not Even Close!

#21 Comment By Barry On January 4, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

TS: “One of the biggest sources of campaign contributions to congresspeople seeking reelection is money raised by Jewish organizations. ”

I doubt that; the biggest block of unwavering, dual-loyalty supporters of Israel is right-wing evangelicals and fundamentalists.

#22 Comment By Rich Broderick On January 4, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

In regard to U.S. support for Israel, it’s important to keep in mind that the $3 billion per year figure that’s bandied about is actually a drop in the bucket.

Near the end of his term in office, Jimmy Carter had the State Department undertake an analysis of the true monetary value of U.S. aid of all kinds, direct and indirect, to the state of Israel. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan was elected, sweeping into power along with him the neocon cabal that gave us Iran-Contra, the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. A heavily redacted version of the report “edited” by the Israeli embassy in D.C., was finally leaked in the 1980s. At the time, the actual figure of U.S. aid during the 1970s came to more than $15 billion per year, a sum that includes, among other things, tax revenue not collected on contributions to “non-profit” American organizations that collect money from U.S. citizens that is sent to Israel where it ends up being directed toward support of the occupation and theft of Palestinian land.

Today, it is likely that, in 2015 dollars, the amount of direct and indirect aid to our “most cherished ally” is considerably more than $15 billion per year. In return for this subvention we have a “most cherished ally” that not only attacked our military in the Six Day War, jump-started its nuclear weapons program with enriched plutonium stolen from our Oak Ridge facility, spies on us without break, but also jabs its finger in our eye any time we criticize its mistreatment of the Palestinian, brings backroom pressure on us to initiate military campaigns in the Middle East that have helped give rise to ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and openly attempts to influence our elections. And, oh yes, through its allies in the United States, has helped fuel today’s campaign of anti-Islam bigotry — a campaign that ignores the fact that historically, it has been Christian Europe where Jews have experienced the deadliest persecution and Islamic parts of North Africa and the Near East to which many of those Jews fled for safety, which they continued to enjoy until very recent times — Jews who lived in French Algeria during WWII were actively protected by their Muslim neighbors, experiencing a far higher survival rate during the Holocaust than Jews living in largely Christian metropolitan France.

With friends like this — who needs enemies? And I say that as a goy member of Jewish Voice for Peace, a status that I’m sure the folks at Fox News and AIPAC would think qualifies me as a self-hating anti-semite.

Or something like that.

#23 Comment By Fast Jimmy On January 4, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

Our most cherished ally is likely Japan. Paying a great amount of its own treasure to maintain one of the world’s few great navies, it has been an understated supporter of rational shared policy interests for decades.

#24 Comment By Emilio On January 4, 2015 @ 6:31 pm

I definitely do not support either Likud or Mike Pence, but I am wary of easy analogies.

White South Africa did much worse to a huge majority population than Israel does to a minority, which attacks it constantly and with unrepentant angst far greater than what black South Africans mustered, and is also backed by overwhelming Islamic vile emanating from immediate surroundings that outnumber Israelis gigantically. While they had comparable numbers, no one can say that black Africans as a whole presented a comparable front of opposition to South Africa.

Israel’s founding myth and Biblical status among many Americans is beyond what white South Africa could count on. Surely there are white Christian countries oppressing minorities, but none are the chosen people fleeing a Holocaust perpetrated by Christians (which demands atonement), now planted in their ancient homeland amidst a sea of ethno-religious foes, who happen to be seen as potent historical enemies of Christendom as well. All this explains the word “cherish” by Pence and his audience. No one “cherished” white South Africans. The whole idea is strange except to neo-Nazis. With Israel, there’s something else.

South Africa also had nothing like the actual person-to-person connection to America that Israel has. There are 4.5 million white South Africans by some measures. There are not 4.5 million Americans who feel their identities as closely tied to South Africa as there are 6 million American Jews who have such stake in Israel.

Look at Obama’s dismal approval ratings in Israel, and among the American right on his Israel policies. This for a president who has done nothing to change American policy, he merely expressed some of the utterly mainstream and broad sentiments of moderate reformers. So I guess my point is: what describes reality best? Well, I would say that Israel is very strongly positioned for continued American support, and those who talk of South African style sanctions may have a point, but that’s all they have.

I agree that the apartheid comparison will be a real foe of Israeli injustice, for it does have verifiable components that cannot be excused by anything. Still, solving the dilemma of Israel is not a present waiting to be gifted to a pleasantly surprised world. I don’t see any credible external pressure on the horizon, and what it should look like, I don’t really know. But I can see that a president, any president, can’t just lean into a Cuba-like turn on this one.

#25 Comment By JimBob On January 4, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

What are “we” getting out of this relationship? You don’t get much of an answer until you define “we” as the politicians who, without their pro-Israel donors, would have to go looking for another line of work.

#26 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 5, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

There are a lot of fine Americans, mostly Jewish but some Gentile, for whom Israel looms larger than any other consideration. That makes affinity with and support for Israel a genuine American interest, even if it is an unexamined and counterproductive one from the standpoint of unexpected consequences.

#27 Comment By Crazy Love On January 5, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

F. Macadam wrote – “There are a lot of fine Americans, mostly Jewish but some Gentile, for whom Israel looms larger than any other consideration. “

Sorry, but “fine Americans” don’t put Israel’s interests over “any other consideration”. “Fine Americans” put fellow Americans first. They certainly don’t endanger them for the sake of a foreign amour fou.

#28 Comment By michael in nyc On January 6, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

Perhaps the good Republican governor meant to say:

“America’s greatest Albatross”

Now that would be a moment, the truth finally being said.

#29 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 6, 2015 @ 8:17 pm

“‘Fine Americans’ put fellow Americans first.”

There must be few indeed, since Americans are so pitted against each other. I am also certain everyone knows of some foreigner whose interests they would put before those of certain “fellow Americans” they detest. 🙂

#30 Comment By Emilio On January 7, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

Fran Macadam, that is funny. Indeed, there are fine Americans who put the well-being of whales and dolphins ahead of other fine Americans… and knowing some that I’ve met, I’m not too surprised.

I’m not Jewish or evangelical or even pro-Israel, but I’ll be damned if I can’t bring myself to recognize a compelling story. And compelling stories do attract a following. It’s human nature. Nothing wrong with it.

#31 Comment By Duglarri On January 8, 2015 @ 1:50 am

Of course Israel isn’t an ally; for American politicians, if not its people, Israel is an objective. Israel is like clean water, or functioning schools, or snow clearance in winter. It’s an objective.

How it came to be this way is an interesting question. No other country gets to be an objective. But Israel is special in this one crucial way: people with unlimited amounts of money come to politicians and say, here’s this money: take care of Israel. There’s no comparable amount of money being offered to “take care of France”, or “take care of Uganda, please.”

The fact that it is an objective, and not an ally, accounts for many of the unilateral actions of the United States in the course of which the US actually does things on Israel’s behalf without even consulting Israel.

Israel is an objective.

In other words, a pet. Israel is a pet country.

God help them if, like any other adolescent, America ever grows up and gets tired of the pet.

Good Israel. Down! Down! That’s a good Israel.