Paul Pillar comments on the whining of clients and Washington’s need to “reassure” them:

Expressions of fear and anxiety will continue, and so will the presumed need for the United States to respond to them, for two basic reasons. One is that ostensibly fearful states have every reason to milk those emotions for all the arms sales, security guarantees, economic aid, and superpower attention they can get. Why wouldn’t they, regardless of how sincere or insincere the emotions may be? The other reason is that displeased allies constitute a convenient theme that domestic opponents can use to criticize foreign policy. Never mind that such criticism may be inconsistent, with some of the same folks wringing hands over professed nervousness among Gulf Arabs or Israel apparently not caring about what America’s major European allies, who actually have been party to the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear agreement, feel about it.

When client governments are trying to scam the U.S. out of additional support, they have every incentive to profess their alarm at being “neglected” or “abandoned” by their patron, and hawks at home have every reason to amplify those complaints to score points in debates here. All of this is bound up with the misguided obsession with “credibility,” which clients and domestic hawks are both skilled at using to their advantage. I have commented on this several times before. That is why such complaints from clients should always be greeted with skepticism, and they should force us to ask whether the interests of our clients and our own interests are actually aligned on the issue in question.

For example, if the Saudis and other Gulf states are opposed to a nuclear deal with Iran, that does not mean that the U.S. needs to be bending over backwards to assuage their doubts. Furthermore, if regional clients want to throw a fit over a major U.S. diplomatic initiative, the right answer is not to find ways to bribe them into silence or compliance. It is rather to prove to them that their hostility to U.S. goals comes at a price in their relationship with the U.S. Clients are certainly not obliged to endorse all U.S. policies, but they shouldn’t be be rewarded for actively seeking to undermine them. If they want to sell their support to the U.S. on a given issue, they would need to demonstrate first that their support is necessary and useful. When they won’t or can’t do this, the U.S. gains nothing except new commitments and burdens by offering them more support.

There is a related problem that U.S. policymakers have so often overstated the interests that the U.S. has in various parts of the world, especially the Near East, that they have tricked themselves into believing that the U.S. needs its clients more than they need U.S. support. The U.S. goes to great lengths to placate and satisfy governments that contribute little or nothing to making the U.S. more secure. If our policymakers were less inclined to perceive “vital” interests everywhere, they would be less inclined to indulge clients in their attempted extortion when our interests and theirs diverge.

Advertisement