The Obama administration appears to be adopting a “frenemy” posture towards its allies and harming U.S. credibility as a trustworthy security guarantor.
When Vice President Biden spoke the truth about Turkey and Arab Gulf states as enablers of ISIS at Harvard, he was forced to “kowtow” and issue an apology afterwards.
A few weeks later, Secretary Kerry bears false witness against Israel as the cause of ISIS recruitment in front of a Muslim audience during an Eid celebration. When he was later called out for his remarks, rather than apologizing to Israel as the Obama White House had done with Turkey and Gulf states, the administration behaved in a rather sophomoric and “xiǎo qì” fashion by stonewalling Minister Ya’alon and its staunchest Middle East ally’s visit to Washington during a critical time as the region is engulfed in conflict.
Moreover, the White House continues to call its most loyal ally in the anti-ISIS coalition, the Kurds, as terrorists in order to appease Turkey.
This prompted Bernard-Henri Levy to pen an article in The New Republic urging the U.S. to “Stop Calling Our Closest Allies Against ISIS ‘Terrorist’,” noting that it was the PKK-affiliated PYD unit that in the space of 10 days, succeeded in saving 70,000 Yazidis stranded on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar.
Indeed many observe these valiant Kurdish warriors on the frontline against ISIS deserve the international community’s and especially the U.S.’ respect and support.
Gareth Jenkins from Johns Hopkins University’s Central Asia and Caucasus Institute argued that on the battlefield PKK units have consistently outperformed both the PYD and the Peshmerga and “the willingness of its militants to sacrifice their lives in defense not only of their fellow Kurds but also of Christians, Yazidis and even Turkish-speaking Turkmen has considerably enhanced the PKK’s reputation both inside and outside the region.”
Contrast this with Erdogan’s Turkey watching with indifference as ISIS slaughters Kobani Kurds and continues its Khmer Rouge-like abominations across the region.
When the world sees the Obama administration—and by extension America—abandons allies, lacks moral clarity, and compromises its values by partnering with janus-faced regimes that violate American values on a daily basis, it is no wonder that U.S. allies are looking elsewhere for more attractive partners.
And while former U.S. envoy Daniel Kurtzer recently chastised Israel for bilateral tensions and for upgrading ties with China and Russia, perhaps he should consider whether U.S. conducts might be the cause for this similar pattern with other allies.
Shadi Hamid, a fellow at Brooking’s Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, argues that “Saudi Arabia is increasingly dangling prospect of diversifying its alliances, by moving closer to Russia and China,” and that this is a common theme amongst many U.S. allies. This is especially so in face of U.S.-Iran rapprochement.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, only one in five Arabs have a positive view of America’s role in the Middle East, while roughly half of Arabs support China.
Moreover Obama’s fickleness in supporting allies has damaged their trust in the U.S.
Tokyo felt betrayed when in December 2013, the Obama White House ordered U.S. commercial airlines to obey China’s new rules for its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that violated Japanese air space, immediately after Japan instructed its commercial airlines not to comply.
Seeing its ally did not defend Japan’s sovereignty when it was violated, Shinzo Abe began to seek security alternatives to the U.S. via constitutional revision and upgrade defense ties with India, Britain and France.
Tokyo is also reaching out to Russia. On 25 October Japanese navy began joint military exercises with Russia 500 miles off the coast of Vadivostok.
Abe seeks to strengthen ties with Moscow and not be overly dependent on an erratic U.S. ally in its spats with China. Sheila Smith from the Council on Foreign Relations said Putin is also interested in continuing a dialogue with Abe, and “there is ample reason for Japan to pursue its own interests with Russia.”
In Eastern Europe, NATO members Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic have also quietly begun to lean towards Moscow.
Jackson Diehl noted in The Washington Post these countries harbor doubts on whether a NATO led by Obama would come to their defense.
Observing Obama’s policies, China has joined the chorus of U.S. allies.
An Huihou of Shanghai International Studies University (SIIS), who served as Chinese ambassador in five Arab countries, declared that “U.S. backing off on the Syrian chemical weapons issue signaled the end of U.S. hegemony.”
China is right. When U.S. loses trust from its allies, it also loses influence and power projection in those regions. This creates an opening for China and Russia to step in.
Perhaps, it might be instructive for the Obama administration to look in the mirror, and discover the main reason for allies spanning from Europe to Asia reaching out to China and Russia.