International military cooperation can take many forms. When pushed to the extreme, it can even turn into its opposite. What was meant to protect from danger can sometimes become the fact that precipitates an unwanted conflict. For that reason, most nations now seek to avoid the once popular idea of mutual defense treaties. Such agreements tend to bind each of the parties to supporting and participating in a war that one of them may provoke or be provoked into. It may also have the effect of alienating otherwise friendly nations, who suddenly find themselves cast in the role of the enemy. This not only constrains the ordinary foreign policy of both nations but may, at unforeseen moments, force them into situations over which they have no control.
One example of the risk attached to a mutual defense treaty is currently playing out in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte. The Biden administration is attempting to mobilize its historical allies in a complex effort to counter Chinese expansion. For over a century, the US and the Philippines have been militarily joined at the hip. All that changed with the arrival of the mercurial Duterte. An article in The Diplomat recounts the successive phases of a truly rocambolesque relationship marked by “the volatility and unpredictably that Duterte has injected into the U.S.-Philippine alliance since 2016. … Despite the Biden administration’s attempts to reset the U.S.-Philippine alliance, Duterte remains an unstable factor in the equation.”
Whereas most nations studiously avoid engaging in mutual defense treaties, the US has long been an exception. This is the consequence of positioning itself as the leader of multiple military alliances and its imperial need to establish hundreds of military bases across the entire globe. But unlike traditional bilateral mutual defense partnerships, the US typically cultivates an asymmetrical balance.
Israel Will Continue Disregarding International Law
In Europe it’s a different story. However close its relationship with developed nations such as the UK, France or Germany following the Second World War, the US could not be bound bilaterally to follow the eventual warlike initiatives of any of those nations. Europe and the US solved that problem by creating NATO, effectively spreading the responsibility across a range of partner countries while creating and entertaining the belief that the only real threat came from the Soviet Union.
Then there’s the case of the curious military alliance between the US and Israel. Never has an alliance appeared more subject to irrational emotion than this one. This past week its irrationality led to a skirmish between lawmakers in Washington over the memorandum of understanding on “security assistance” signed by President Barack Obama in 2016. This was Obama’s parting gift to Israel, a country with whom he had maintained a somewhat uncomfortable relationship due largely to the brazenly irrational behavior of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The MOU was a pledge of American support with hard cash over 10 years.
Al Jazeera describes the showdown. When “progressive Democratic legislators proposed a bill seeking to regulate American assistance in an effort to stop human rights abuse against Palestinians,” they didn’t have to wait long for the response of their colleagues, who were in no mood for a subtle debate. Citing “particularly strong bipartisan backing” for unconditional support by the US government of Israel, a group of 300 legislators made it clear that Israel is the one country of whom no questions will ever be asked and on whom no conditions may ever be imposed. The legislators explained why no debate is possible: “American security assistance to Israel helps counter these threats, and our rock-solid security partnership serves as a deterrent against even more significant attacks on our shared interests.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
A basis of agreement and mutual indulgence between two or more people ranging from cultural tastes in the consumption of music and art and participation in mutually profitable activities at one extreme to the taste for domination and genocidal pacification at another extreme.
In a paragraph listing the reasons for their unwavering support, the lawmakers begin by citing the most recent assault on Israel’s well-being: “Israel continues to face direct threats from Iran and its terrorist proxies. In February, an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman was hit by a mysterious explosion that Israel has attributed as an attack by Iran.” The lawmakers feel no need to mention that only days earlier, the Israelis had admitted to assassinating an Iranian scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020. Nor did they feel compelled to cite Israel’s spectacular attack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz this month. Israel has created a state of ongoing war that could at any moment spin out of control, setting the entire Middle East ablaze.
To complicate things, all observers are aware of the fact that the Israelis are driven by their opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, President Obama’s initiative that, as candidate, Biden had said he would seek to piece back together after Donald Trump’s impetuous withdrawal and aggressive attack on the partners who wished to maintain it. In short, Israel has been actively and boldly seeking through legal and illegal means (assassination, sabotage) to undermine the Biden administration’s official US foreign policy. In normal times, the last thing lawmakers would suggest is offering that nation “unconditional” support.
What precisely are the “shared interests” the American lawmakers are referring to? They mention “U.S. national security interests in a highly challenging region.” Recent history has shown the US challenging the region rather than the region challenging the US. Initiating violent and endless wars, from Pakistan to Libya and Somalia, can hardly be called a case of being challenged. Neither is supporting Saudi Arabia’s catastrophic war in Yemen — as the US is continuing to do despite the Biden administration’s pullback — a case of being challenged.
The entire history of Israel since its creation in 1948 is fraught with moral and political ambiguity. At the time, the West in general and Britain in particular played a neo-colonial game that has led to decades of violence, oppressive behavior and permanent regional instability. The plight of the Palestinian people constitutes one of the modern tragedies of history. This week, Human Rights Watch reported that “Israel is committing ‘crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.’”
Morally ambiguous situations such as this should logically require nuanced policies aimed at resolving tensions and establishing some sort of permanent equilibrium. Biden’s secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, solemnly announced in Israel last week that “Our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is iron-clad.” Unconditional support, “rock-solid security partnerships” and iron-clad commitment should not even be considered in such cases. And yet those are the only metaphors permitted within the Beltway when speaking of Israel.
The lawmakers cite Israel’s support for “security partners like Jordan and Egypt,” which they see as instrumental in helping to “promote regional stability and deal with common challenges from Iran and its terrorist proxies.” Egypt happens to be a brutal military dictatorship, but so long as dictators can ensure some form of stability, they seem to correspond to the lawmakers’ essential criterion as “partners.”
In their conclusion, the lawmakers write, “Just as foreign assistance is an investment in advancing our values and furthering our global interests, security aid to Israel is a specific investment in the peace and prosperity of the entire Middle East.” This might have sounded slightly less irrational had they simply eliminated the phrase “advancing our values.” What values? The rule of law? Israel itself has been violating all the laws and resolutions imposed by the international organization that validated its creation, the United Nations. The “security partners” with whom the US has built alliances are essentially sanguinary military dictatorships who have no time for democracy, freedom, due process, “liberty and justice for all” or any of the “values” Americans traditionally vaunt and flaunt as their legacy.
There is little doubt that the legislators will get their way. The progressive attempt to offer even a small margin of maneuver to US foreign policy with regard to Israel will be dismissed out of hand as an obvious act of impertinence. Everything will return to normal. That is, after all, what Biden himself promised.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.