America Is Tangled Up In Impossibly Complicated Webs
The ancient idea that “The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend” is widely attributed to the Arabs. But it is actually much older … It originated in the 4th century B.C. in India. Kautilya – the “Indian Machiavelli” – wrote about the idea in the Sanskrit military book, the Arthashastra.
U.S. foreign policy has been guided by the “Enemy of My Enemy” idea for decades for decades.
Should we really be following 2,400 year-old advice from ancient India?
More importantly, is the saying even true?
As the following graphics demonstrate, basing modern foreign policy on such an archaic notion from ancient times is leading to ridiculous results:
(Daily Kos; a little dated, but still shows the absurdity of the situation)
(Gulf/2000 Project via Washington Post)
(The Daily Show)
Long-time insider Anthony Cordesman – former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who also served in the State Department, Department of Energy, and was director of International Staff at NATO – wrote in July:
It is … a proverb with a dismal history in practice. In case after case, the “enemy of my enemy” has actually proven to have been an enemy at the time or turned into one in the future. The Mongols did not save Europe from the Turks, and the Soviet Union was scarcely an ally after the end of World War II.
The United States needs to remember this as it considers military action in Iraq and reshaping its military role in Syria.
General and former CIA director Petraeus agreed earlier this month:
I went to hear a presentation by General David Petraeus … and this man who knows the Middle East as well as anyone in Washington made me think about things in a whole new way, by turning the adage on its head. Remember, he warned that in that part of the world, the enemy of my enemy is also still my enemy.
Time noted in 2002 that famed terrorist Abu Nidal was an enemy to both Israel and Palestine, committing terrorist attack after attack against both Jewish and Palestinian targets.
Abu Nidal went on to mastermind attacks on a Jewish school in Antwerp, synagogues in Vienna and Istanbul, and a Greek tourist ship. In December 1985 his group ambushed the El Al ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports, killing 14 bystanders.
The great irony of his career was that he did more to destabilize and stigmatize the Palestinians than to cause permanent harm to Israel — his declared enemy. In the mid-’70s, Abu Nidal was sentenced to death by the P.L.O. for plotting to kill Arafat. Between 1978 and 1983, he was responsible for the assassination of six of the P.L.O.’s most moderate diplomats. In 1982 the attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to Britain was attributed to his group — giving the Israelis a convenient pretext to invade Lebanon, in which Arafat had set up headquarters, and kick the P.L.O. out.
Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still the enemy.
And a letter to the editor published in the Financial Times last month stated:
Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!
Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.
But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!
Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!
Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.!
Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!
Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.
Following this 2,400 year old myth has caused America to back Al Qaeda and Nazis … and to fight against both sides in Syria.
(It has also led to carrying out regime change multiple times in the same country. )