Commentary yet to be written on President Obama's visit to Israel no doubt will be infused with readings of the congeniality meter—assessments of whether meetings between the president and the Israeli prime minister show any evidence of warming of U.S.-Israeli relations. Consensus expectations seem to be pretty low on this score, but that will not stop the meter-reading. There's nothing wrong with that on the face of it. What is wrong, however, is the prevalent assumption that warmth in this case is necessarily good, and lack of warmth necessarily bad. Warmth is good if it advances or protects U.S. interests, not if it doesn't.
In many alliances and friendships between nations this may seem almost like a distinction without a difference. There may be a reservoir of empathy, goodwill and, most important, a broad set of common or parallel interests that pays dividends to each side in ways that do not need to be connected explicitly with any one action or any one summit meeting at which leaders make nice to each other. Keeping the reservoir filled can confidently be expected to be good for the interests of one's own nation over the long term. This generally characterizes, for example, the relationship that the United States has with Britain or Canada. But the relationship between the United States and Israel is extraordinary and very different from any other—so much so in its nature and implications that it deserves to be called strange. The profuse provision of support and expressions that the larger country directs to the smaller one is not rooted in commonality of interests but instead in the larger country's internal politics.