In Asia, the United States has some 30,000 troops based in South Korea, where they lie in easy range of a bellicose, nuclear-armed dictatorship to the north. Roughly 50,000 U.S. soldiers are positioned in Japan. Across the entire Pacific theater, the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force have about 400,000 American soldiers and civilians deployed to contain a rising China, respond to natural disasters, and deter a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
America’s military commitment to its Asian allies, like its commitment to its European allies, requires more risk and sacrifice than its arrangement with Israel. Because the post–World War II Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan prohibits the latter from having offensive military capabilities, the U.S. is pledged to protect the nation from attack. The United States made a similar pledge to South Korea following a war in which 30,000 Americans died defending it from an invasion by the Communist North Korea. (No “American blood” was expended to save Israel when a coalition of Arab armies attacked it in 1948. Indeed, not a single American soldier has ever died defending Israel, something that cannot be said about many of our allies). The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act compels Washington to “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” That stops just short of an outright commitment to defend the island from an attack by mainland China, but ensures enough strategic ambiguity to keep Beijing at bay.
Finally, Israel is hardly the only American ally in the Middle East to receive military aid. Egypt is the second-largest non-NATO recipient after Israel, and Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are beneficiaries as well.
Read: Why does the United States give so much money to Israel?
Unlike U.S. aid to Israel, most of which is funneled back to the American defense sector, U.S. defense spending toward its forward-operating presence in Europe and Asia is composed of hundreds of thousands of “boots on the ground,” soldiers whose lives would be at stake in any scenario involving an attack on treaty allies. And these allies lie under our nuclear umbrella, meaning that conflicts on either continent could theoretically ensnare the United States in nuclear war.
Viewed in this light, U.S. military aid to Israel looks less like the special dispensation of a powerful ethnic lobby and more like the logical extension of America’s postwar power projection. It is not all that spectacular compared with U.S. defense arrangements with the dozens of countries it is obliged to defend, up to and including with weapons of mass destruction. Of course, U.S. support for Israel has an emotional dimension, as the passionate speeches at AIPAC invoking the Holocaust attest. But much the same can be said for the United States’ military arrangements with Estonia, South Korea, and Taiwan: All are small, vulnerable democracies facing authoritarian, rapacious adversaries, and this underdog quality animates American public support. Yet for some reason, none of these alliances engenders anywhere near the same sort of antipathy as does the one between the United States and the world’s only Jewish state.