I was reading Mollie Hemingway’s latest comments on last week’s Cruz/In Defense of Christians incident, and I was struck by these lines:

And then there are plenty of legitimate reasons that Christians might not find Israel to have been the best ally [bold mine-DL]. For one thing, it’s not really the job of Israel to be an ally to Christians in the region, except insofar as the alliance [bold mine-DL] works for all parties.

There were many things wrong with Cruz’s performance last week and his subsequent attempts to spin that deplorable performance as an act of courage, and many of them have been ably described by Rod Dreher, Michael Dougherty, and others. I agree with almost everything these critics have had to say, and I’ve made some of the same points earlier, but I want to say a little more about the misuse of the term ally in this discussion.

Cruz provoked some people at the summit last week by asserting that Christians in the region “have no greater ally than Israel.” That isn’t true by any reasonable definition of the word ally, but by itself one could dismiss it as a pandering throwaway line that a conservative Christian would use to reconcile his “pro-Israel” hawkishness and his faith. If Cruz wants to pretend that this is true for his own reasons, he can do so, but it’s important to understand that there is no such alliance. An alliance implies more than just having common interests or common enemies. It also requires active and mutual support, and there is simply isn’t any of that. Nor would we expect there to be any. Cruz’s error was in believing that such an alliance exists and in assuming that Christians in the region were somehow at fault for not acknowledging something that doesn’t exist. Israel and Christians in the region may have some of the same enemies, but that doesn’t mean that an alliance exists between them, so it is ludicrous to suggest that Israel is their ally, much less their best one. The bigger problem with what Cruz said was that he asserted something demonstrably false as if it were undeniably true and then went on to denounce anyone that disagreed with the falsehood as being filled with hate.

Americans frequently throw the term ally around without much care or thought as to the obligations that real alliances entail. It is used indiscriminately to refer to everyone from the pettiest client state to traditional treaty allies, and it is often applied to governments and groups that don’t deserve it because it creates the impression that the U.S. has more support in various parts of the world than we really do and it allows Washington to pretend that we have more at stake in various conflicts than we actually have. Sometimes it is used, as Cruz used it, to raise a government for a degree of solidarity and support that is imaginary. Indeed, American politicians often overpraise the least useful clients for their contributions to make these relationships seem more valuable and important than they are. So when one of these politicians says that a government that doesn’t do anything significant to help you and your people must be acknowledged as your greatest ally, it is entirely appropriate to object to the lie and to call out the person saying it for trying to mislead you.

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