Friday, 15 April 2016

These Relationships Accordingly

Tornike Zurabashvili ends his plea for NATO membership for Georgia with some strange claims: 

Speeding up Georgia’s integration into NATO will leave Moscow unhappy, but losing Georgia would be far worse. Russia’s understanding that Georgia’s NATO membership is imminent might force it to play nice on Georgia’s border [bold mine-DL].

Even if expanding NATO deeper into the former Soviet Union made sense for the alliance (it doesn’t), this would be irresponsible and dangerous for Georgia.

It was the prospect of future NATO membership that raised tensions between Russia and Georgia ahead of the August 2008 war.

It was the false encouragement that the Bush administration gave Georgia’s government at the Bucharest summit that led Saakashvili to believe that the U.S. would come to Georgia’s aid in the event of a conflict. 

Not only did Russia not “play nice” as a result of pushing for Georgia’s membership in the alliance eight years ago, but the resulting conflict made the country’s membership in the alliance even harder for our major European allies to support than it already was. 

The biggest loser in all of this has been Georgia, which has been strung along with an ever-receding promise of integration into the alliance that everyone has to know by now won’t be happening.

It would be reckless and cruel to encourage Georgia down the same path that has already done so much damage to the country.


Samuel Oakford reports on a welcome measure from the Senate:

Two US Senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would halt future sales of aerial munitions to Saudi Arabia until President Obama verifies that the Saudi government is respecting international humanitarian law in waging war in Yemen, that it doesn’t support listed terrorist groups, and that it is pursuing all measures to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. 

Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) said that in light of the civilian toll of the US-backed Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, the White House must ensure that American weapons are not being used in attacks on innocents. 

If the legislation became law, it would represent a meaningful step in cutting off some of the arms supply to the Saudis, and it would reduce the extent of U.S. involvement in the ongoing war. 

Since the Saudi-led coalition has been committing war crimes in Yemen for the last year and has been largely ignoring the rise of AQAP’s mini-state, the administration would not be able to verify that the Saudis are meeting most of the conditions listed in the bill. 

While it would be ideal to put a halt to future arms sales to the Saudis and their allies all together, this bill has a better chance of winning broader support.

Even so, it will be difficult to get the bill through. 

As Oakford goes on to say, “winning approval of the resolution is expected to be an uphill battle in Washington” because “the arms industry will likely lobby heavily” against it. 

Regardless, Sens. Murphy and Paul deserve a lot of credit for taking on an issue that has mostly been ignored by their colleagues in the Senate, and Americans that want to try putting a stop to at least part of the U.S. role in the war on Yemen can urge their members of Congress to support this important legislation. 

Murphy and Paul are to be commended for being some of the only people in Congress to challenge the administration on its indefensible support for the Saudi-led war. 


Bilal Saab makes the case for a more precise use of the term ally: 

The word “ally” is used far too casually in Washington’s Middle East lexicon. It’s time to break this bad habit, because the truth is that with the exception of Turkey—a NATO member—the United States does not share a single alliance with any Middle Eastern country.

I agree, and when writing about states in the region I try to avoid referring to client states as allies.

For one thing, calling these states allies creates the false impression that our commitments to them are equal to the commitments made to genuine treaty allies. 

While it may be flattering to these states to call them allies, the term implies that the U.S. is obliged to aid and defend them when the U.S. has no such obligations. 

It also allows supporters of the different client states here in the U.S. to put the concerns of clients ahead of those of actual allied governments. 

We saw during the debate over the nuclear deal how misleading this can be. 

Several of our treaty allies were working with the U.S. to negotiate the deal, and some regional client governments were opposed to the agreement, and opponents of the deal here at home claimed that the administration was ignoring or betraying our “allies” when they were the ones doing exactly that.

Saab continues:

That Washington so frequently mischaracterizes its bonds with Middle Eastern capitals does great disservice to them, to their own expectations from the United States, and to U.S. policies toward the region. It also unnecessarily aggravates nations with which the United States has real alliances.

Israel and Saudi Arabia are the most obvious examples of how inflating the significance of a relationship with a client state can lead to significant distortions in the relationship. 

Constantly referring to clients as allies inflates their sense of their own importance to Washington, and that makes them both more demanding and less cooperative. 

This also has harmful effects on how U.S. policies in the region are framed and debated. 

When a stated U.S. policy is at odds with the preferences of one or more regional clients, opponents of that policy often treat the clients’ interests as if they should take precedence over our own, and pretending that clients are allies helps them to do that.

More important, referring to them as allies makes our relationships with client states seem more permanent and vital to our interests than they are.

However important our formal alliances in Europe and Asia are, these client relationships are much less important to our security, and our obligations to these states are fewer and less significant.

Our government should adjust how it talks about these relationships accordingly.

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