Opinion

Is The Enemy Of Your Enemy Still Your Friend?

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, Chapter XII)

…at the end of World War II, we were the only undamaged industrial power in the world. Our military supremacy was unquestioned. We had harnessed the atom and had the ability to unleash its destructive force anywhere in the world. In short, we could have achieved world domination, but that was contrary to the character of our people. Instead, we wrote a new chapter in the history of mankind.

We used our power and wealth to rebuild the war-ravaged economies of the world, both East and West, including those nations who had been our enemies. We took the initiative in creating such international institutions as this United Nations, where leaders of good will could come together to build bridges for peace and prosperity.

America has no territorial ambitions. We occupy no countries, and we have built no walls to lock our people in. Our commitment to self-determination, freedom, and peace is the very soul of America. That commitment is as strong today as it ever was. (President Reagan, Remarks before the UNGA Special Session devoted to Disarmament, June 17, 1982)

One irony of politics in a constitutional democratic republic: Being at war inevitably degrades its liberty, but the path to war often well serves the popularity of its politicians.  When conflict looms, the people at large are impelled by their natural passions to come together in the shadow of impending danger. Fear, loathing and resentment unite them against the enemy, which simplifies the task of preserving their unity.  But it also simplifies the task of uniting them against one’s political foes.  Nothing is required but to make those foes appear to sympathize or co-operate with the enemy.

Ironically, if one is already colluding with the adversary, a decisive advantage may result from the perception that one is boisterously attacking them.  Carefully choreographed, the display of combat that results will continually exacerbate a people’s apprehension of danger.  So, they are inclined to increase the concentration of power and authority in hands that are (unbeknownst to them) intent on abusing it.  This may be why politicians elected to wield the power of a national government are always tempted by good (or even merely plausible) excuses for military action, particularly if their public support is under siege for some reason.  In October, 2012 Donald Trump saw this as a possible motive for Barack Obama’s warlike posturing in regard to Syria, when he tweeted: “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin-watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran.  He is desperate.”

For some weeks now, President Trump has labored under a withering assault from his most apparent adversaries in the media.  Now, with the missile attack on Syria he has a) eclipsed the invidious implication that he and his team are unduly inclined to curry favor from the Russian government under President Putin; and b) he has, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out recently “used the occasion to flip the script on a major domestic scandal.” Of course, the missile strike also waved the red cape in Russia’s face, taking a risk that could bring U.S. and Russian military forces into battle with one another, eliminating the proxies from what has, until now, been their proxy war.

Was it a gutsy move?  Only if we assume that there was no choreography informally worked out between the Eagle and the Bear.  This hypothesis that to be seriously considered only if one takes seriously allegations about the Trump team’s interests in Russia.  But since some of Trump’s adversaries in the media praised his decision to attack Syria, their will to obsess about the allegations that lately preoccupied them may weaken. Of course, that could be taken as likely evidence that those allegations never had substance, but were merely a stick the President’s adversaries used to beat him into submission.

But it also raises the possibility that the allegations about collusion with Russia were simply meant to distract the attention of Trump’s conservative constituents from what is, from their perspective, a more disturbing course of events: the ongoing disintegration of the anti-establishment persona Mr. Trump fabricated to win their support during the late Presidential election cycle.  The boldly apparent collapse of his anti-establishment disposition to seek cooperative relations with Russia may be camouflage for the more bold, but not yet so apparent collapse of his outsider pose on other issues of vital concern to sincerely conservative voters.

When Hillary Clinton was the alternative many well-meaning conservatives fell for the false wisdom that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But when President Trump becomes the enemy of candidate Trump, what then?  When the enemies of your friend make nice with him because he has dramatically reversed the stance that made him your friend, what then?  Does that make them any less your enemies? And as evidence piles up that his reversion is quietly ongoing, even in respect of the most salient issue that made candidate Trump your friend, what then?  If by remaining the friend of your enemy’s enemy, you yourself must become your own enemy, is the enemy of your enemy still your friend when you have ceased to be?

It is tempting to say, with Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, that “These deeds must not be thought after these ways: so, it will make us mad.” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2) This is what comes of abandoning the true standard of friendship, and replacing it with a sliding scale of evil, more or less.  That slide isn’t draining the swamp.  It is taking us ever more deeply and irreversibly into its tortuous, lightless depths.  Yet all need not be lost—for the light still shines in the darkness, though the darkness knows it not.  We have but to right around from our present way, so as to find ourselves again in the place where we began, cherishing the friendship of our Creator, God. No one can make us greater than He.