Can an enemy’s enemy be a friend?
The author is a Washington correspondentof the JoongAng Ilbo.
“If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons,” Winston Churchill said when Nazi Germany was sweeping across Europe and invading the Soviet Union. Churchill was an anti-communist to the bone. But he said he could make an alliance with a “devil” like the Soviet Union to stop Nazi Germany by following the old principle of international politics: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
A similar situation was replayed at a press conference at the Pentagon in the United States on Jan. 1. When asked about the possibility of cooperating with the Taliban to respond to terrorism by the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought for a moment and said that it’s “possible.”
To handle the eminent enemy of the IS-K, the U.S. could have been willing to work with the nemesis, the Taliban. He added, “In war you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessarily want to do.”
But the U.S. and the Taliban had been enemies for 20 years. It is uncomfortable to make friends with the Taliban, who stone women to death and decapacitate hostages. Moreover, Khalil Haqqani, who’s likely to be the new leader, was designated as an international terrorist by the U.S. in 2011. A $5-million reward has been put on him. According to the CIA, he was involved in kidnapping and murdering Americans and is close to al-Qaeda.
In the past, there have been incidents when an enemy’s enemy has become America’s friend. During the Cold War, Egypt’s Nasser and Chile’s Pinochet were notorious dictators, but they received generous aid from the U.S. as they were anti-communist. As Afghanistan’s Mujahideen fought against the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq had conflict with Iran, they both received weapons and information from the U.S. While the partnerships maintained the “balance of power,” the end result was not good. Oppressive rule caused tremendous damage to citizens, and weapons provided by the U.S. Forces became threats to neighbors. The weapons were sometimes used against the United States.
Lately, the Taliban posted videos on social media, showing off U.S. military equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees. White House press secretary Jen Saki argues that that equipment won’t be a threat to the U.S. and the world as the Taliban does not have the capability to operate them. But considering past precedents, I doubt that is really true.
Can an enemy’s enemy really be a true friend? The world is once again anxiously watching Afghanistan to find out the answer.