This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies. The old strategy rested on a global network of formal military and political alliances, mostly though not exclusively with fellow democracies. The idea, Averell Harriman explained in 1947, was to create “a balance of power preponderantly in favor of the free countries.” Under Bill Clinton, and the two Bushes, relations with Europe and Japan, and later India, were deepened and strengthened.
This administration pays lip-service to “multilateralism,” but it is a multilateralism of accommodating autocratic rivals, not of solidifying relations with longtime democratic allies. Rather than strengthening the democratic foundation of the new “international architecture” — the G-20 world — the administration’s posture is increasingly one of neutrality, at best, between allies and adversaries, and between democrats and autocrats. Israel is not the only unhappy ally, therefore; it’s just the most vulnerable.