Our enemy’s enemy, is never better…

I’d like to go further than the Faceless Bureaucrat did an hour or so ago.. I should also know that amongst my students he has become ‘the freelance bureaucrat’ for no good reason at all (my first years just read the FB-Betz exchange on freedom of speech as alternative reading on the reading list).

Anyhow, my proposition and provocation is simple:

The enemies of our enemies have universally proved to be more problematic than the original enemy. Certainly in the last fifteen years.

* Saddam was decidedly horrid, but after Gulf War I was also decidedly stable. The situation that followed him, the influence of Iran in the country, and the new leadership are no improvement (if you can see past some flawed elections).

* The Taliban were not to our taste, and a threat via the harbouring of training camps, but the situation that has followed is a dysfunctional money-pit and a rapid return to the 1980s…

* In Zimbabwe, the international clamour to replace Mugabe went quiet when it was assessed that the military and security hierarchy that sits to his left and right were even more dangerous than he is/was.

* Egypt looked promising, then Morsi got excited and decided he was Mubarak-redux, and from a international politics perspective, Mubarak was a force for stability and constructive engagement with Israel (contested, for sure).

* Libya.. we got excited about the opposition, but we didn’t know who they were or what they were intending and that’s gone badly too.

* And now Syria, where the opposition groups we’re all officially quite excited about have allegedly massacred Alawite’s (who have broadly supported Assad).

So, like an emergent isolationist from my previous muscular liberal past… I say again, all of the enemies of our enemies, are worse devils than the ones we know… We should have moved for strategies of containment.

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15 thoughts on “Our enemy’s enemy, is never better…

  1. Tom Bryk says:

    Hello Sir.
    It`s not maybe revealing but;playing with fire around a barrel of gunpowder there is a chance you gonna get burn.
    My question is,getting burn is a part of spreading freedom and democracy or just calculated business risk …

    • Rob Dover says:

      Well, to extend your metaphor, I think it’s more a question of not fully understanding the conditions under which the powder is going to go off, and whether the surrounding buildings are going to catch fire too.

  2. Chris says:

    Not sure if those liberated from tyranny and oppression would agree? I recognise the point of the article and see a few veins of political observation but the generalisation is rather wide. Journalists and academics never discuss the difficulty and complexity of these situations. Effective FP during times of crisis where our National interest is threatened is an art form where outcomes are difficult to predict. On the international stage there is no black or white and there is rarely consensus amongst the IC because the all solving and idealist silver bullet like vampires does not exist. Inaction is often too unacceptable in terms of human cost and the will to maintain a degree of humanity amongst the IC encourages leaders to intervene. When a dictator moves to massacre his people, in the name of humanity and good versus evil, something must be done to save life. The problem you allude to is the ‘what comes next” after the regime or dictator has been removed. Picking up a country after it has been ruined for decades is no easy act whether the effort is externally generated or internally led. States take time to stabilise and grow but patience and tolerance in these globalised times is lacking. It is easy and right for western historians and academics to review past interventions in a critical light but I have never seen a liberated country wish for the devil they knew.

    • Person says:

      Are you truly, truly sure that Iraqis in 2006 preferred their bloody chaos to the situation in 2002?

    • Rob Dover says:

      I agree with this.

      Why are Afghans still the largest single measured population group trying to enter the southern borders of the EU, far outstripping all other nationalities? It doesn’t ring of overwhelming contentment with the new order…

      And the Iraqis who I have met since 2002 have universally said that whilst Saddam was an unpleasant tyrant they preferred the stability to the insurgency/civil war.

      Saying that FP is a game played at the end of one’s nose seems inadequate to me. The possible future consequences should very much be in an official’s mind. Libya is, for me, the worst of these cases currently under way.

  3. Madhu says:

    Thoughtful post.

    Do modern security relationships predispose nations to think of allies or alliances in a particular way, and, thus, drive us into a certain idea of “enemies of enemies” and all that?

    It’s a funny thing listening to the popular media discuss alliances here in the United States, even in some of the publications meant to bridge scholarly and policy work and thus to educate the larger public. The use of words like “friend” or “friends” as if such childlike descriptions are the best way to think about a world of complicated global relationships that include trade, global supply chains, international migration of people, complicated human motivations for behavior, and so on.

    Hmmm….

    • Rob Dover says:

      I think there’s a lot to this comment. From thoughts of transnationalisation, to pan-regionalism. The space a singular level unit of analysis is slim indeed!

  4. Madhu says:

    I’d also like to request a rethink on the labels “isolationist” and “interventionist.” Normally, I hate renaming things when perfectly good words are already available, but those two don’t seem particularly well suited for a world of the internet and international air travel, etc.

    • Madhu says:

      Oops, I should have been more clear….

      I was thinking of other publications and a different context for discussion when I wrote my comments. Your use of the terms and the use of “friends” in the previous post seem perfectly fine for this blog conversation.

      I think my complaint really is about an all-or-nothing tendency in some US publications and I should have stated that with more clarity. Thanks for the reply to my comments.

  5. Mike Wheatley says:

    Really? Hmm… Perhaps I have missed something in your argument.
    (I’ll quote you for clarity, I am not intending to make pedantic traps.)
    ***
    “The enemies of our enemies have universally proved to be more problematic than the original enemy. Certainly in the last fifteen years.”
    More problematic for whom?
    From the context, I take it to mean: more problematic for us.
    Perfectly reasonable question to ask. I expect examples of how we are worse off, and none about what the locals think. Or do we care about them as well?

    * Saddam was decidedly horrid, but after Gulf War I was also decidedly stable. The situation that followed him, the influence of Iran in the country, and the new leadership are no improvement (if you can see past some flawed elections).”
    Saddam kept starting wars with his neighbours, that eventually resulted in the Straights getting mined, and the invasion of Kuwait.
    The new regime has no interest nor ability to do either.
    How is it worse for us?
    (Also: what do you expect “normalised relations with Iran” to look like?)
    On the plus side, Saddam was good for our arms-for-oil exports to the region… except that the Saudis have carried on buying without him. Perhaps they were/are buying more “because they can” than “because they need to”?

    * The Taliban were not to our taste, and a threat via the harbouring of training camps, but the situation that has followed is a dysfunctional money-pit and a rapid return to the 1980s…”
    The Taliban were only our enemy when they decided “to fight to the death to protect our allies Al Qaeda”. Al Qaeda were not, and are not, containable. The Taliban now (as of last year?) regret having allowed in AQ, so, jobs a good-un, no?

    * In Zimbabwe, the international clamour to replace Mugabe went quiet when it was assessed that the military and security hierarchy that sits to his left and right were even more dangerous than he is/was.”
    Mugabe is not our enemy. Hence, we ignore him.

    * Egypt looked promising, then Morsi got excited and decided he was Mubarak-redux, and from a international politics perspective, Mubarak was a force for stability and constructive engagement with Israel (contested, for sure).”
    Mubarak was not our enemy.
    The Muslim Brotherhood made a point of not joining the anti-Mubarak protests: they made it very clear that they were not his enemy.
    So, Egypt is a place where we did not intervene, in which you fear that the non-enemy of our non-enemy may end up being our enemy.
    I’m not seeing how that supports your proposition?
    Also: if he was such a force for stability, how come there has just been a revolution there against his policies? The last month of Mubarak’s Egypt is not my idea of stable…

    * Libya.. we got excited about the opposition, but we didn’t know who they were or what they were intending and that’s gone badly too.”
    How has it (past tense) gone badly for us?

    * And now Syria, where the opposition groups we’re all officially quite excited about have allegedly massacred Alawite’s (who have broadly supported Assad).”
    Assad is not a threat, and hence not an enemy, of us.
    The rebels are being armed by Saudi and Bahrain… our allies, no? And they are choosing to arm the religious, as opposed to secular, rebels?
    “allegedly” is not evidence. Also: which groups?
    Syria looks like a place where the friends of our friends may (may) end up being more unpleasent than the previous unpleasent non-enemy.
    But bad for us? Please elaborate.
    If the rebels win, and the best armed ones are those selected by Saudi and Bahrain, then they will be as unpleasent as Saudi and Bahrain, surely by definition? (Since anything the rebels cause, has been caused by Saudi and Bahrain arming them.)

    ***
    Pointed question:
    why the lack of worry about what might happen in the “unstable” post-Soviet republics, with their “flawed elections”?
    Or the new muslim nation of Kosovo: I’m not hearing woe and angst, with much wailing and knashing of teeth, as to what some future “president Toniblair Mohamed of Kosovo” might do.
    Or Burma. The end of military rule there migh indeed allow increased sectarian violence. But (a) nobody cares, and (b) nobody is claiming that Aung San Suu Kyi is “more problematic”, and (c) nobody cares. Technically points (a) and (c) are the same, but it is worth stating twice for emphasis.

    Or, indeed, South Africa following Nelson Madela’s regime change there. Lets compare the first decade of the new regime there against Iraq – optionally including AIDS deaths.
    I’m not so interested that they are comparable – what interest me, is that nobody is making the comparision.

    ***
    The only explanation I have been able to come up with, is that in the Arab Spring (and Iraq, where the arguments by detractors are very similar,) we were asked to form an opinion as to whether to support the regime change, or not. And those who decided “no”, proceed to parse later events for evidence to support their initial possition.

    • Rob Dover says:

      Thanks for your length thoughts.

      Perhaps I should just re-spin my argument (and I’m not trying to suggest that I have put forward anything ground breaking, these posts are merely to muse).

      In essence it’s a question of containment vs intervention.

      We can mostly all agree on the motherhood and apple pie notion that for individuals it is better to be free in many different ways. All the revolutions and different governmental unseatings promised this to one degree or another.

      Taking different units of analysis, that of the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers in those territorial areas or to western interests (be they economic or regional) then my suggestion is that containment offers (and lots of counterfactuals possible) a better solution. Because in some cases one set of unpleasant people have been swapped for others (so just different communities or peoples being oppressed), and in many cases national or regional instability has had worse effects than the original containment. But anyway…

      The South Africa question is a good one (as is the Burma one to be honest). And I will need to think about that. Because I wonder to what extent the universal quality of the norm being upheld has skewed normal levels of critique about this. A notion that is no doubt heresy in and of itself!

      Mubarak – let me rephrase. He came under a large amount of pressure to reform. In refusing to do so he didn’t become an enemy, but he did put himself at variants with the will of the west. Minor point.

      Taliban – AQ could have been dealt with using SF in the way that they were, which is different to deposing the Taliban. Indeed, aside from a normative question, the containment strategy could have then applied. And all the other aspects of their governance would have fitted the a) and c) criteria as you outline above!

      Let’s revisit Libya in a year.

  6. Mike Wheatley says:

    Glad you are thinking about the issue of consistency, compared to South Africa and Burma. (And Kosovo, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia…)
    When I’m feeling in an uncharitable mood, I put it down to the anti-interventionists being big meanies who seek the path of least expense, and then seek to morally justify it to themselves and others.
    But then it occurs to me that, if they can be seeking false arguments to support their chosen actions – then so can I. So I am not sure how best to counter any bias I may have.

    Regarding Mubarak, and Assad:
    How can we possibly contain a regime, if the problem we have, is what they are doing in their own country?
    (Not that we really have a problem with them, in this case.)

    Also, and more generally: whilst we have an interest in the revolutions, the revolutions are not interested in us.

    ***

    Regarding the Anglo-French response to the Arab Spring: I am seeing a lot more Sun Tsu than Clauswits.
    The idea being:
    (1) to use military displays to empower diplomacy,
    (2) use diplomacy to change enemies to neutrals, and neutrals to friends.
    (3) do this to pre-empt getting into an actual war, where chance can make even the best prepared loose.
    The target audience being less Benghazi, but rather everyone watching Al Jazera. But if we can get Benghazi, and Libya, on side, then great.

    • Person says:

      Regarding Mubarak, and Assad:
      How can we possibly contain a regime, if the problem we have, is what they are doing in their own country?
      (Not that we really have a problem with them, in this case.)

      I take it you dismiss the “responsibility to protect”?

      ps Sorry if this view appears to be an attack on you, Dr Betz.

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