The recent decision of President Hamid Karzai to release 65 prisoners from the Bagram detention centre in Kabul caused a political rift between Afghanistan and the USA.  As the conflict in Afghanistan winds to a close, at least from an ISAF point of view, there are already hints that the Afghan establishment will not be as appreciative of American support as many might have hoped.

This represents just one example of the peculiar relationships the USA maintains with a number of states. These relationships, born through a concoction of historic connections, guilt or irrational conflict seem to be beneficial in mainly one direction, and that’s not towards the USA.

A controversial article published in the London Review of Books named ‘The Israel Lobby’ raised a question that if often neglected from political debate in the USA: Why does the United States persistently support Israel? Expanding this question, the article by American scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claims that the relationship with Israel has numerous negative impacts and negligible benefits for the USA.

The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has produced research claiming that the financial costs of entering the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq could spiral to six trillion dollars. Six trillion. The horrendous waste of this conflict from an American point of view is compounded by the 2,311 troops who have died, with many thousands more wounded. But what are they gaining from these conflicts?

Ongoing support to unappreciative allies has one major benefit. In Israel, South Korea and Philippines, the USA has troops and influence in areas of major strategic interest. A 2011 speech by President Obama indicated that moving troops into the Asia-Pacific region will be a ‘top priority’. There are already nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, assisting in the ongoing struggles between North and South. The US naval influence is significant, with elements of the Third and Seventh fleets in constant operation in the Pacific, arguably to prevent Chinese interests usurping their own.

But at what cost is this strategic interest maintained? A very compelling argument drawn on in this contentious debate is that persistent American involvement creates resentment – resentment that creates further violence in the form of terrorism. The premise of this argument is that conflicts justified in the interests of ‘national security’ often fundamentally undermine it. The knee jerk reaction undertaken by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 appears to have done little to reduce anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

More specifically, in many cases the relationships are not mutually beneficial and result in embarrassment for the US government. The support of Israel extends to support of the majority of its actions. Claims that it is a liberal democracy surrounded by dictatorships have a ring of truth, but do not excuse Israel from some of their actions. However, when the USA take an ethical stand Israel do not appear to feel a need to comply with it. Israel does not regularly fall in line with US opinions. Recent disputes over the Iranian nuclear proliferation scheme have demonstrated this. When Israel delivered plans to build 1,500 new homes in disputed territory the Obama administration condemned their actions. Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t seem to care.

The lack of mutual support is a persistent embarrassment to the United States. Considering in 2012 alone Israel were the willing beneficiaries of $3.1 billion in military aid, including the potent rocket system ‘Iron Dome’, it seems amazing to me that such extensive support continues.

Even South Korea is increasingly becoming a ‘runaway ally’. A young, progressive-leftist movement has been spreading through the economic powerhouse which claims that US influence in the peninsula is impeding progress towards reconciliation with the North. It is a country that is innovative, increasingly powerful in its region culturally and economically and fiercely proud of its heritage. Its young, educated middle class are rejecting the relevance of US influence in favour of developing more functional working relationship with their Northern counterparts.

Finally, it appears that American influence is in decline in nations which were previously staunch allies. The decision of the British parliament not to accompany the US on an intervention in Syria epitomises the swing in favour. This was partially responsible for the lack of action in Syria as of yet. America is increasingly unable to do what it wants without significant confrontation.

The USA must begin to assess whether the strategic advantages of their military expansion are worth the security and perception damage it causes. Would people be so disenchanted with America if it did not play such a forceful role on world affairs? I don’t think so.




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