The "Frenemy" Dilemma* by Spencer Amaral

*“Frenemy” is a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy.” It refers to someone who is purportedly a friend, but who is actually an enemy.

Like any middle-school girl, America has BFFs and frenemies. Such relationships on the part of a major power indicate that the United States also has the planning capacity of a seventh-grader, but these strategies have been the basis of American grand strategy since World War Two. It is high time to realize its inadequacy to address the threat of terrorism. Mob bosses and foreign policy wonks always want others to do their dirty work when confronting an enemy. The problem is dealing with these allies-of-the-moment after they have accomplished their mission. American history is rife with examples of this “frenemy” problem.

The Soviet Union was a vital ally in WWII, keeping Hitler occupied on the Eastern Front and paving the way to an eventual Allied victory. The USSR then became Public Enemy #1. America spent the next 45 years locked in the Cold War, ducking under a doorjamb every five minutes and interrogating filmmakers accused of promoting communism.

The U.S. then fought a proxy war against the Soviets, supporting those who stood up to socialist superpower. The Mujahedeen, freedom fighters in Afghanistan, fiercely resisted Russian occupation for almost a decade, with the help of American weapons and funding. After the fall of the USSR, the Mujahedeen became Al Qaeda and turned against the United States. The 1991 World Trade Center Bombing, the attack on the USS Cole, and the 9/11 attacks eventually forced America to follow Soviet tracks into Afghanistan. Eleven years later, the U.S. still struggles to do what the USSR could not.

In the 1980s the United States backed Saddam Hussein, militarily and financially supporting Iraq’s war against Iran. In 1990, less than three years after that war ended, America fought Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War. The sequel came out in 2003, but the U.S. never found the nuclear MacGuffin that the Bush Administration used to justify the war.

Such precedent should not be taken lightly. America must realize that the enemy of its enemy is not necessarily a friend. For how long will Congress keep sending taxpayer money to “allies” who end up using their new resources and training against the United States? Once again, utilizing Russia as an ally in the Second World War was a crucial aspect of the plan to defeat Nazi Germany. But WWII will never happen again. The days of conventional warfare waged between world powers struggling at max capacity ended with the invention of nuclear weapons.

As long as America continues to intervene in the Middle East, it will be waging a war that its military is not designed to fight. Though the U.S. has the best and most technologically advanced fighting force in the world, it is being forced to fight on the terrorists’ terms, playing to their strengths. America maintains the moral high ground while insurgents plant IEDs and take potshots in crowded cities, using non-combatants as human shields. It is up to Washington and the Pentagon to utilize the troops in the most effective way possible. They can surely do better.

As Machiavelli points out in The Prince, the greatest mistake a new ruler can make after he has secured a new region is to gain the enmity and hatred of the common man, who would normally be uninterested in matters of power and politics. Today, the U.S. faces a similar issue. The longer America fights in the Middle East to support regimes with whom it shares no common ideals, and the more likely it is to gain the hatred of previously uninterested individuals. Anything from propping up an unpopular government to a drone strike that kills can cause distrust and hatred of the West. The end result is the creation of more enemies over time, in a culture capable of holding grudges for thousands of years.

Some argue that American power ought to be used to support those fighting for common ideals. Others respond with statistics about crushing debt and a war-weary public, seeing folly in the needless extension of the military on feel-good ventures not directly related to national security. But, for the sake of argument, where are these good, liberty-loving people whose oppression the U.S. is uniquely poised to remove? The Arab Spring did not arise from shared ideals, unless you consider the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist Islamic groups with ties to Al Qaeda as manifesta- tions of American-style democracy. Is there moral satisfaction in supporting pro-democracy regime change when the new regime is defiantly anti-American? The answer is an emphatic no.

The United States must change its grand strategy to better deal with a Middle-Eastern culture that has embraced constant warfare and religious extremism for millennia. By adjusting to this reality, America can better utilize the strengths and abilities of its military, protect the lives of its servicemen, and keep the nation safe from terrorist and frenemy alike.

Spencer Amaral is a junior studying Political Economy

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