Foreign Policy

The Enemy of My Enemy Is Likely Just Another Enemy

What to make of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other American "friends" is a complicated question.

John J. Bastiat · Oct. 18, 2018

Contrary to the Pollyanna foreign policy of the previous administration that assumed a “reset” was possible with Russia, that a World Apology Tour in which bowing to despots and other morally corrupt leaders was not only appropriate but also long overdue, and that “spreading democracy” (think: “Arab Spring” and the current conflagration in Syria) supersedes U.S. national security interests — to include regional stability in the Middle East and prevention of mass loss of life — the Trump administration actually “gets” foreign policy. This despite the leftover leftist antibodies infesting what ostensibly is known as the “State Department.” Trumpian foreign policy implicitly realizes that unlike the age-old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” that “friend” is more likely yet another enemy. Perhaps it’s the case that we should treat a current enemy-of-our-enemy somewhat better than an enemy, but rest assured this “friend” does not have the best interests of the U.S. in mind.

Nowhere is this fact more apparent than in the unfolding of recent events, in which American pastor Andrew Brunson was released after two years’ unjust imprisonment in a Turkish jail, while at nearly the same hour U.S. resident and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was brutally tortured and slain in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia has been the best friend of the U.S. over the years, but the U.S. nonetheless has looked the other way on myriad occasions during the more provocative acts by each, all for the sake of international comity and stability, not to mention the use of both countries’ soil for U.S. basing at various times past. Turkey’s apparent on-again-off-again status as a NATO ally under despotic President Recep Erdogan’s reign, along with Saudi Arabia’s questionable role in events spanning from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the 9/11 attacks to the present, both have strained relations with the U.S.

Turkey released Pastor Brunson only after President Donald Trump directed the Treasury Department to apply economic pressure on Turkey under the Global Magnitsky Act, resulting in the precipitous fall of the Turkish lira. President Trump followed up by threatening to impose draconian tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. The threats and pressure from the U.S. ultimately forced Erdogan to release the pastor.

As for the “disappearance” of dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Turkish authorities claim to have a gruesome recording purported to be from Khashoggi’s Apple watch — a recording Khashoggi had set up to be transmitted to his wife, who was waiting for him in a car outside the consulate. While President Trump wisely urged calm until the exact details of the incident are known, Saudi Arabia’s role will undoubtedly be severely scrutinized at least by Congress, among others. Potentially at stake if Saudi Arabia is shown to be holding a smoking gun are an arms deal for upkeep and modernization of the Kingdom’s F‑15 fleet — reportedly worth over $100 billion — and the Saudis’ role in holding Iran at bay as a regional power with hegemonic aspirations. The latter is, of course, far more important. The subsequent lowering of Saudi Arabia’s esteem as a U.S. ally would have grave implications, destabilizing the entire region even further and sending shockwaves throughout world oil markets.

For its part, Iran has shown itself to be a truly capable enemy of Liberty generally and of the U.S. particularly. It is fomenting rebellions in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, funding proxy wars against the U.S. and its allies in Syria and Lebanon, and actively supporting the dismantling of U.S. victories in Iraq. Without strong Saudi support Iran will undoubtedly continue to attempt to establish regional dominance, further complicating attainment of U.S. national security interests in the Middle East.

What’s the moral of the story? Simple: When it comes to the question of whether to impose our value set on other nations, Moral Number One is, “U.S. vital national security interests come first. Period.” President Trump tacitly nodded to this reality in a recent “60 Minutes” interview, telling CBS’s Lesley Stahl that while he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin has likely has been involved in many assassinations and poisonings tied to Russia, “I rely on them; it’s not in our country.” It’s a blunt statement, but in the current world in which each nation is viewed as sovereign and no nation (theoretically, anyway) has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another, the first priority of every nation is to protect its vital national security interests — the U.S. is no different in this regard from any other. Teeing off into other nations without a clear national security interest at stake and under the ill-fitting guise of World Morality Police helps no one.

The bottom line is that in a world overpopulated with enemy-of-my-enemy “friends,” tolerating localized despotism, state-sponsored dissident assassinations, and a host of other evils is the filthy price the U.S. pays as a part of the larger goal to keep its shores free of state-sponsored terrorists and impacts of worldwide instabilities.

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