A September 12 Foreign Affairs article hit the nail on the head regarding wasting American tax dollars on dubious alliances.

In the article, Doug Bandow stated that “Alliances should be a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, and in this case, that end should be to increase US security.”

However, it seems over the past years US alliances are actually decreasing US security with disastrous policies in the Middle East.

Increasingly, US taxpayers are not only condemned to carry the burden of providing for their own families during hard economic times in America, but also for dubious US allies and their military adventurism and aggression abroad.

Global terror

Since 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost US taxpayers nearly US$5 trillion, according to the report published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.[1]

Despite 15 years of the war on terror, global terrorism has increased by 6.5 percent.


Moreover, US alliances are expensive, and Bandow sees that defending prosperous, populous, industrialized nations around the world is a form of wealth transfer from US taxpayers to their counterparts overseas. The Pentagon has become the federal government’s largest source of foreign aid.


According to former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon, American families are hurting and can no longer afford it with the country’s current US$19 trillion debt burden. Alliance relationship should also be both ways — US allies should help America when she is in need, and not only behave as free riders.

Moreover, many US allies actually behave in ways that are inimical to US security and interests. As Brookings Institution’s Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky wrote back in May, US alliance relations have created moral hazards — when an actor (ally) takes more risk because someone else (US) bears the cost of those risks.[2]

They cited the Saudi war in Yemen as an example. When Riyadh embarked on its bombing campaign, US supported the intervention to ensure “Saudi Arabia would not feel the full consequences of failure.  Naturally, the lesson that the Saudis learned is that the United States will back them up no matter what they do.”

Decreasing security

As a result, this unconditional support has empowered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, to the detriment of US national security.

Jamestown Foundation’s Michael Horton, a security expert close to US SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and adviser to US and UK governments, slammed the Saudi intervention and their Iran-Houthis narrative.[3] He stated the Houthis were “successful in rolling back AQ [Al Qaeda] and now IS [the Islamic State] from a number of Yemeni governorates” that US drone strikes had failed to accomplish.

“We had a great opportunity to engage with the Houthis on this, but we gave in to the Saudis … and frankly they cannot begin to manage this,” Horton said.  “Well, guess what? Now we’re Al-Qaeda’s air force in Yemen.”

Similarly, US is also behaving as Al Qaeda’s air force in Syria. In late August, Turkey and its rebel jihadists invaded Syria with US air support in Operation Euphrates Shield aimed at Syrian Kurds and ISIS.[4] US special forces are also embedded with the rebel groups in Al Rai in northern Syria where Ahrar al Sham, considered “Al Qaeda-lite,” is present.

In a textbook case of reaping what one sows, on September 16, various reports revealed that US special forces were chased out of Al-Rai by US/Turkey-backed jihadists that threatened to behead and slaughter them.[5]

As Patrick Poole in Pajama Media reported, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) shouted “Christians and Americans have no place among us”, and others shouted in Turkish, “Death to America! We will behead you!” US troops in Tal Abyad also came under fire from the Turkish military.

When asked why they were kicked out, Turkey’s President Erdogan said US behavior caused its own eviction, and the FSA spokesman said Erdogan wanted to teach Americans a lesson.

Meanwhile on September 20, Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tammim bin Hamad al-Thani blasted Americans at the UN General Assembly for not doing more to topple the Syrian government so they can install a Salafist regime, essentially treating American men and women in uniforms as a mercenary force similar to their al-Qaida-linked proxies in Syria.

To add insult to injury of taxpayers, four more US-trained “New Syrian Army” rebels again defected to ISIS, bringing advanced weapons and training to the terrorist group.[6] When a FSA general in 2013 said he wants to work with Al Qaeda in Syria to establish an Islamic state, is it a wonder then one in three Iraqis believe US supports ISIS?[7]

Now American taxpayers are wondering whether their hard-earned dollars should be spent supporting Al Qaeda groups in Syria and Yemen, and whether US policy of unconditional support for some allies is actually increasing American safety.

In 2014 before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Jonathan Schanzer testified that duplicitous allies such as Qatar and Turkey housing “American or NATO assets does not qualify these countries as valuable allies,” and it just means that “they have valuable real estate.” Now there are proposals for a move.[8]

Nonetheless, these changes may not be forthcoming, as the Beltway establishment seems more accountable toward foreign donors and governments, than it is to the basket of Les Deplorables of hurting Americans and homeless veterans, abandoned after they served their purpose in regime change operations.

[1] Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, “Wars Since 9/11 Have Cost US Taxpayers Nearly US$5 Trillion”, Voaciv, September 13, 2016, http://www.vocativ.com/358766/wars-since-911-have-cost-u-s-taxpayers-nearly-5-trillion/

[2] Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky, “How America enables its allies’ bad behavior”, Brookings Institution Blog, May 4, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/05/04/how-america-enables-its-allies-bad-behavior/

[3] Mark Perry, “US Generals: Saudi intervention in Yemen ‘a bad idea’”, Al Jazeera, April 17, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/17/us-generals-think-saudi-strikes-in-yemen-a-bad-idea.html

[4] Richard Sisk, “Turkish Tanks Roll into Syria with US Air Support”, Military Times, August 24, 2016, http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/08/24/turkish-tanks-roll-into-syria-with-us-air-support.html

[5] Patrick Poole, “Shock Video: US-backed, “Moderate” Free Syrian Army Threatens To Kill US Special Forces”, Pajama Media, September 16, 2016, https://pjmedia.com/homeland-security/2016/09/16/shock-video-us-backed-moderate-free-syrian-army-rebels-threaten-to-kill-embedded-us-special-forces/; Daniel Horowitz, “Obama Literally Sending Our Special Ops to Fight For “Moderates” Who Want to Kill Us”, Conservative Review, September 16, 2016, https://www.conservativereview.com/commentary/2016/09/obama-is-literally-sending-our-special-ops-to-fight-for-moderates-who-want-to-kill-us

[6] Nabih Bulos, “US-trained Division 30 rebels ‘betray US and hand weapons over to al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria”, Telegraph, September 22, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11882195/US-trained-Division-30-rebels-betrayed-US-and-hand-weapons-over-to-al-Qaedas-affiliate-in-Syria.html; https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-backed-rebels-defect-isis-deir-ezzor/

[7] Andrew Tilghman, “1 in 3 Iraqis thinks the US is supporting ISIS. Seriously.”, Military Times, April 7, 2016, http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2016/04/07/many-iraqis-believe-conspiracy-theories-us-supporting-isis/82754502/

[8] “U.S., NATO Should Develop Contingency Plans  to Move Military Bases Out of Turkey, FDD Report Finds”, FDD Press Release, August 29, 2016, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/us-nato-should-develop-contingency-plans-to-move-military-bases-out-of-tu/

Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.

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