Posts Tagged ‘dictatorship’

The ancient proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long been considered of Arab provinance, although there is some evidence that it is also a Chinese maxim. Regardless, it has been a foreign policy staple for as long as there has been foreign policy or war or, for that matter, entities arguing over who gets to own a particular piece of land. Maybe it made sense once in the days when you found yourself swinging sabers alongside your enemy, both of you battling for survival against a larger invading army. If your comrade in arms then turned around and swung the sword in your direction, you could respond in kind or hightail it out of there. On the other hand, if you found that working together produced satisfactory results, you might decide to forgo your petty quarrels, forge an alliance, prepare a feast and call it a day.

Nowadays, it feels like a perilous and naive way to conduct foreign affairs. Yet the United States appears to have been picking its allies based on a sort of “lesser of two evils” rationale since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, as is pointed out in “Thank God, They’re On Our Side” by David Schmitz. Actually, his book tracks the relationships between the U.S. and dictatorships between 1921 and 1965. After that you’re on your own but here’s a partial list: Pinochet, Suharto, Noriega and yes, Saddam Hussein.

We need to improve our taste in BFFs. Are these really the guys we want to have our backs when the chips are down? These enemies of democracy and liberty – these are our friends?

As we are all hyper-aware, our current “frienemy” is supposed to be Pervez Musharraf, whose latest forays into democracy involve declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan, a nation that actually has weapons of mass destruction. The hard-line Islamists hate him, and U.S. support just adds to that tinderbox. The lawyers, teachers and other advocates of democracy also oppose him. It is the second group he has moved to jail, which should terrify us, but since his promise to fight terrorism is what binds him to us, all we seem to be able to do is warn, scold, and continue to send money.

History is full of shifting alliances and sometimes you just have to throw your lot in with the least bad and hope that was your best choice. However, as the world gets more complicated, we might want to rethink the impetus behind a century of foreign policy decisions. For starters, we need new friends.

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