‘No Daylight’ with Clients Puts America Last
Aaron David Miller comments on the vice president’s recent trip to Israel:
Mike Pence’s trip was less important for what it accomplished than what it reflected and represented: Under Trump: the U.S.-Israel relationship has undergone a transition from a valued special relationship to one that’s seemingly exclusive. The need for “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel used to be a talking point wielded by staunchly pro-Israeli supporters against Democratic and Republican presidents alike; Trump has turned it into official policy, and many foreign policy hands worry that the U.S. interest is being lost in the process.
Losing the American interest is inevitable when our government makes maintaining “no daylight” with any other country a priority. It is not possible to have “no daylight” with any other state, because there are always divergent interests. It does no one any favors to pretend that these divergent interests don’t exist, and it is positively harmful to try to conform one country’s interests to the other’s. Candidates have been foolish to promise “no daylight” with other countries, and it is a major error to follow through on that promise.
As if to prove that his rhetoric about putting America first was nothing but hot air, Trump has shown a remarkable knack for subordinating American interests to the interests of its clients abroad. He has done this with the Saudis and other Gulf clients over the last year by indulging their reckless and destructive behavior against Yemen and Qatar, and he did it with Israel when he formally recognized Jerusalem as their capital. It is funny that Trump should be the one to preside over the deepening of one of the most one-sided relationships that the U.S. has with a client. He is always saying that the U.S. is getting a bad deal from other countries, but he has no problem overindulging a state that has increasingly become a liability for the U.S. Trump has gone out of his way to give Israel everything it might want from an American president without requiring anything of them.
There is always a danger that supporters of strong ties with another state will tend to conflate the interests of their own country with those of the other state, but Pence took this even further when he said this in his speech to the Knesset:
We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight.
No doubt Pence believes this, but it isn’t true. Despite the best efforts of “pro-Israel” hawks to make all of Israel’s enemies ours, the U.S. has no real quarrels with Israel’s neighbors. Their neighbors pose no threat to us. Their fight with the Palestinians is not ours, and our fights elsewhere are not theirs. Israel is probably the only state in the world that the U.S. (wrongly) describes as an ally that has never fought alongside the U.S. in any of our wars. There are no mutual defense obligations between our two countries, so it is unlikely that this will change in the future. There is nothing wrong with that, but it means that there is no alliance and they are not a “reliable ally.” Instead of recognizing that reality, Trump and Pence have chosen instead to make the already lopsided relationship even more so.