Belmont Club

No Better Enemy, No Worse Friend

Back in 1968, Henry Kissinger once observed that “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal”. Everything was subordinated to domestic politics according to which Washington’s first instinct was to coerce its allies and attract its foes.  In contrast to the Marine’s well known slogan, the motto of the some diplomats was “no worse friend, no better enemy”.

In the intervening half century Kissinger’s ironic adage appears to have become even truer. According to the Business Insider, “ISIS Is Making An Absurd Amount Of Money On Ransom Payments And Black-Market Oil Sales”.

ISIS earns about $US1 million each day in oil sales alone, said David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He also said the group has netted approximately $US20 million in ransom payments this year. Additionally, Cohen said ISIS has raised funds through local extortion and crime, like robbing banks.

By contrast, Kurdish oil tankers are sailing in circles in search of a port because Washington has blocked its oil sales anywhere in order to avoid offending Iraq. The New York Times explains:

Roughly two dozen huge oil tankers are idly turning figure eights around the Mediterranean or on the high seas, loaded with oil pumped from wells in Iraqi Kurdistan but with nowhere to legally offload it.

The oil fleet is a costly gamble, to the tune of millions in fees each month, by Kurdish officials who are desperately trying to sell the oil abroad, even as the Iraqi government and the United States are blocking their attempts.

To Iraqi officials, the tankers are carrying contraband — oil that by law should be marketed only by the Iraqi Oil Ministry, with the profits split: 83 percent for the Baghdad government, 17 percent for the Kurdish autonomous government in the north.

Perhaps the secret to ISIS’ recent success can be summed up in one phrase.  They punish their enemies, the administration punishes its friends. China has just surprised Western analysts by deploying an SSN — for the first time — into the Indian Ocean.  The torpedoes it carries will be aimed at Western ships.

One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters. As the WSJ’s Jeremy Page reports:

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

America won’t — can’t  — stop China.  Not only won’t they, they won’t let anyone else. The American ally Taiwan after waiting 13 years for US persmission to buy replacement diesel-electric submarines, has reluctantly decided to build its own.

Taiwan is moving ahead with plans to build its own submarines, with an initial design to be completed by the year-end, after lengthy delays in getting eight vessels under a 2001 U.S. defense deal and as China’s navy expands rapidly.

While major obstacles remain, such as overcoming significant technical challenges and what would almost certainly be strenuous objections from Beijing, a political consensus has emerged in Taiwan in recent months that it can wait no longer, officials and lawmakers said.

There was a time when Egypt was characterized as America’s running dog in the Middle East. Now under attack from Islamists forces from every corner, the former running dog Egypt is looking for allies. The Jerusalem Post writes, “Sisi was confident he could depend on America’s assistance to fight the threat of terror.”

However, instead of cooperating with Cairo, the White House, still smarting over the ouster of former president Muhammad Morsi and of the Muslim Brothers, declared an embargo on arms for Egypt.

The recent visit of the Egyptian president to Washington and his meeting with his American counterpart did not bring a thaw. Obama allegedly quizzed Sisi over human rights in Egypt. The Egyptian president retaliated by saying he would join the coalition against Islamic State but would not send troops, since they were badly needed to defend his country against terror.

Relations between the two countries are still fraught, though America is now grudgingly dispatching ten Apache helicopters that were meant to have been delivered a year ago.

Deprived of the support of his country’s former staunchest ally, Sisi had to look elsewhere.

He is in the process of setting up his own coalition with North African countries facing the threat coming from Libya, such as Sudan and Algeria.

Nothing will come Egypt’s way unless it politically benefits the ruling party.  After all, the Kurds in Kobani were to be left to their fate until the pollsters noticed that it was hurting the  administration’s image. The Wall Street Journal’s Enthous, Parkinson and Barnes wrote: “in public, the Obama administration argued for weeks that Kobani wasn’t strategically vital to the air campaign against Islamic State extremists. Behind the scenes, however, top officials concluded the Syrian city had become too symbolically important to lose and they raced to save it.”

The US role “rapidly evolved” through the little peephole of the spin doctors. But as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told NPR, the airy confections spun by Western diplomats often melt under the harsh glare of history. Ya’alon argues that the borders drawn up by much greater diplomats than Susan Rice and John Kerry a century ago have now almost completely dissolved.

The borders of many Arab states were drawn up by Westerners a century ago, and wars in recent years show that a number of them are doomed to break apart, according to Ya’alon, a career soldier who became Israel’s defense minister last year.

“We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt,” Ya’alon, who is on a visit to Washington, tells Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep.

In contrast, Ya’alon says, “Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea.”

Asked if Middle Eastern borders are likely to change in the coming years, Ya’alon says: “Yes, absolutely. It has been changed already. Can you unify Syria? [President] Bashar al-Assad is controlling only 25 percent of the Syrian territory. We have to deal with it.”

Not that they’ve stopped trying to create new ones. Where Sykes and Picot have failed, Kerry and Rice will try their luck. In maps drawn up by the Left, there’s always a Palestinian Authority but no Israel.  Yet, in the long view of history, it may be that ancient countries which Western diplomats have the least use for — Egypt and Israel come to mind — shall be the ones which endure.  It’s a fair bet that 200 years from today there will still be a China, an Egypt and an Israel.  Who wants to bet there will be a Palestinian Authority, a European Union and an Allawite regime in Damascus?

One of the new countries which a few trendy people in Western capitals have been trying to synthetically create for a long time is ‘non-America’, or more generally, the non-West. They’ve been working furiously to erase its borders and replace it with as much of a void as they can possibly create. Like all the other collapsing diplomatic projects mentioned by Ya’alon, a small intellectual elite  thinks it can take an object of millions of people which has existed for centuries and remold it to their own liking.

Fundamentally change America, just like that. Why should it be different from ordering a pizza, only bigger, which they’ve been doing all their lives? Their view of the world is so insular, so limited by their narrow viewing slit that they don’t even realize they live in the same physical country as the one the want to destroy.  Just as fat men grow bellies so large they can’t see their feet, some narcissists have an ego so bloated they don’t even know where their food and safety comes from.

Bill Ayers triumphantly told Oregon University students that America’s ‘Game Is Over’ and ‘Another World’ Is Coming. “I don’t think there’s any question, and I don’t think any of you would question, that the American Empire is in decline–that economically, and politically, and in  some ways culturally, that we are in decline”.

After decades of paying up, shutting down, not resisting, and self-hating, he says, ‘oh, it worked’. It’s his “mission accomplished” moment.  He has studiously noted America’s precipitous fall but what to others may seem Obama’s mistakes are to him a fulfillment of a long cherished dream.

But as Ya’alon observed with respect to the Middle East, one must beware of such dreams.  The ordinary lives of millions have a momentum that clever people like Ayers often fail to understand.  They go on in ways that confound the sophisticated.  The simple create, sometimes faster than even the most sophsticated men can destroy. Perhaps it will be Ayers’ imagined future that will dissolve in the tides of history.  Maybe it is he and his buddies whose time over.

You can shaft some of your friends all of the time. You can even shaft all of your friends some of the time.  But you can’t betray everyone all of the time on the altar of political expedience. People start to notice those things and start to object.  Implicit in Henry Kissinger’s remark about the betrayal of friends is that the one exception to a policy of betrayal had to be yourself.  You are, if you are sane, your own friend.  You cannot be fatal to yourself.  I wonder if Ayers and company ever thought that far.  Nah.


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