As the new year begins, an American looking out at the world from the geographic center of the US just west of Lebanon, Kansas, would see five nations critical to the security of the US -- Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Britain.
Gone are the Cold War days when the US, no matter who was in power, sought to win over every nation in the rivalry with the Soviet Union.
Today, the US seems to be more selective and to focus on those nations that directly affect its national interests.
To the north, Americans must have friendly neighbors along the 8,000km border with Canada and, to the south, along the 3,200km border with Mexico; both frontiers are largely undefended and could be highways for terrorists.
Yet relations between Washington and Ottawa and Mexico City today are sour, maybe even bitter, by any measure.
To the west, across the Pacific, are Japan and Australia and, to the east, across the Atlantic, is the UK.
The US' alliance with each seems strong but may be rooted more in personal relations between US President George W. Bush and prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, John Howard of Australia and Tony Blair of Britain rather than in deep-seated national interests.
Each has generated political opposition at home for being pro-US. Koizumi has said he will step down next fall. Howard has taken much heat from Australians who want assurances they will not be dragged into a war between China and the US.
Blair's popularity has plummeted and his days in office may be numbered.
These island nations are essential to US security as they sit off the Eurasian continent that is home to three quarters of the human race and most of the world's industry and wealth.
Located in Eurasia are the only military powers -- China, Russia and North Korea -- that could threaten the US' global dominacne
The Islamic swath from Morocco to the southern Philippines is the source of most anti-US terrorists.
These three alliances are invaluable in international politics and are indispensable as military bases, whether temporary as in Australia or long-term in Japan and the UK.
The UK especially plays a vital role in the shadowy world of intelligence.
All is not well, however, with the two allies closest to home. Canada, the leading trade partner of the US, has long been ambivalent about the dominating culture of the colossus to the south.
Today, says the Economist magazine, Canadians have become "grumpily anti-American," due largely to a distaste for Bush and the war in Iraq.
A spat between the US ambassador to Ottawa, David Wilkins, and Prime Minister Paul Martin has aggravated the ill feelings. Martin has been critical of US trade and environmental policies while campaigning for in an election scheduled for Jan. 23.
Wilkins responded: "Just think about this," he was quoted in the New York Times, "What if one of your best friends criticized you directly and indirectly almost relentlessly? What if that friend's agenda was to highlight your perceived flaws while avoiding mentioning your successes?"
In Mexico, the second largest trading partner of the US, there has long been resentment of the wealth of Americans. That has been aggravated by recent disputes over trade and especially the issue of Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, to the US.
After the US House of Representatives approved a bill that calls for a 1,120km fence along the US-Mexico border, many Mexicans called it a "Berlin Wall."