Monday, February 9, 2009

Bad Allies

There's an interesting article at called "America's worst allies." The premise was to make a list of the "five worst allies the United States has had in the past 100 years." Here's the author's top five:

1. The Soviet Union
2. The Afghan Mujahideen
3. Saddam Hussein
4. Pakistan
5. France

I have problems with all but two entries on the list. First of all, the Soviet Union. The Soviets were our allies in WW2 purely out of necessity, and only during wartime. They were not our allies before the war, and the alliance ended with the war. I'd eliminate them from consideration.

Then there is France. France has been irritating and not a particularly good ally, but I don't think it belongs in any top 5 list of this nature. As for Saddam Hussein, I reject the notion that he was ever a U.S. ally. We favored Saddam against Iran during the Iran/Iraq War, but Iraq was a Soviet client state. What support we gave to Saddam has been greatly exaggerated.

Pakistan on the other hand should go to the top of the list. It's basically an ally in name only, and has only cooperated somewhat during the war on terror because the Bush administration put extreme pressure on it. Our relationship with Pakistan has prevented us from having closer ties with India, which, aside from being larger and more important, is actually a democratic state and should be a natural U.S. ally.

So who should be added to the list? There is one glaring absence: Saudi Arabia. How do you put France on a list of bad allies and not Saudi Arabia? Yes, they sell us oil, and help keep the price under control. That's a big plus. But you have to look at the negatives too. They are arguably the greatest sponsor of Islamic extremism in the world. And it's not like they are giving us oil for free. We helped develop their fields, help protect them, equip their military, and provide legitimacy for their backward despotic government. We have a sort of nasty symbiotic relationship with them. They are our ally purely because of oil and strategic position. They hate everything we stand for, just as many of us despise them as wealthy barbarians.

Who else? Egypt. Similar to Saudia Arabia, the Egyptians basically despise the U.S., take our money and weapons, and unlike the Saudis, provide us with nothing. Could we actually count on Egypt in any sort of crisis? Of course not. Egypt is a powder keg with strong radical Islamist elements, kept in check by a vicious dictatorship. Even more than Saudi Arabia, our alliance is with the government only. The people hate us. It could go from ally to enemy overnight, similar to what happened with Iran. And it won't be fun when all of our advanced weaponry falls into the hands of another revolutionary Islamist state.

My final nominee is Turkey. Turkey was a loyal ally throughout the Cold War, when we brought them into NATO, helped defend them against the Soviet threat, and basically supported them in every way possible, including backing their bid for EU membership. In return we got a strong ally that was more pro-Western than most Muslim states, excellent bases in a strategic location, and generally good cooperation. All that changed at the beginning of the Iraq War, when Turkey turned around and knifed the U.S. in the back, blocking us at the last minute from staging out of its territory, and massively disrupting our invasion plans. Allies you can't trust in a crisis situation aren't worth a whole lot. And we can no longer trust the Turks.

Dishonorable mentions: Mexico, Indonesia.


  1. I'd add Israel as at least a dishonorable mention, for spying on the US and then spending decades trying to get the convicted spy released as a gesture of goodwill.

    Turkey I'm conflicted about. It turned against the US in Iraq for an understandable reason: if the Kurds ever get political power, they might decide to agitate for self-determination for Kurdish-Turks. Turkey, like Israel and most Eastern European countries, descends from a very ethnic conception of nationhood; Ataturk was no more tolerant of minority self-expression than Mussolini. In its level of discrimination against minority citizens, it's probably the worst of the bunch (though it's not worse if you include non-citizen subjects, i.e. Palestinians in Israel).

  2. "I'd add Israel as at least a dishonorable mention, for spying on the US and then spending decades trying to get the convicted spy released as a gesture of goodwill."

    I would put Israel in a list of best allies, for various reasons. Allies spy on each other sometimes. (That doesn't mean we should release Pollard, but I don't blame them for asking). There was just a recent story about the CIA focusing a lot of resources on Britain. I'd be willing to bet that there are some things it hasn't cleared with the British government.

    "Turkey I'm conflicted about."

    Yes. Turkey was a strong ally for a long time. But the situation with Iraq was just so egregious and damaging. They could have made it clear way in advance that we would not be able to use their territory, instead of blocking it right near the invasion date. It's not like it we just attacked Iraq out of the blue.

  3. I'd agree with the vast majority of that.

    Quite frankly, the France-bashing is getting ridiculous. Being an ally does not mean uncritical support of every maneuver. The Francophobia that prevailed in the early stages of the Iraq War was embarrassing. Freedom fries? Seriously?

    Turkey is an interesting one as well. Its leadership is in a unique position in that it's at the helm of a secular but massively Muslim country. It wants - unrealistically - entrance to the EU, and yet must be wary of the more extremist elements of its population that think it's betrayed its roots as the seat of the Caliphate. Alon's point about the Kurds is also well worth remembering.

    I too would add Saudi Arabia to the list. The hypocrisy of its leadership is medal-worthy.

    Perhaps an equally interesting list would be the US' five best allies?

  4. "Quite frankly, the France-bashing is getting ridiculous. Being an ally does not mean uncritical support of every maneuver."

    Yeah. The French have always been difficult to deal with. But sometimes they are useful and helpful. Despite the problems they are no Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

    I don't take issue so much with Turkey's position regarding the Iraq War, as with the way they went about it. They could have made it clear behind the scenes in the run-up to the war, that we would not be using their territory.

    "Perhaps an equally interesting list would be the US' five best allies?"

    I just put that post up.

  5. Another bad ally: the Shah of Iran, who played center role in the 1973 oil crisis. If he hadn't been installed by a CIA coup, he might've become a third world hero for sticking it to the industrialized world.