The Enemy of My Enemy
A Dangerous Game
There once was a tyrant named Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, and I defy you to even know where Chad is, but he died on Tuesday while serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, including killing more than 40,000 people he saw as enemies of the state, torture and sex offenses, during his rule in the 1980s.
Habre came to power in a coup supported by the U.S. under President Ronald Reagan, along with France and Israel, all which provided weapons and assistance to aid Habre in keeping up the fight against a mutual enemy on its northern neighbor, Libya, and the Lybian dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. That means that you and me and all of our friends and all of their friends paid our hard earned taxes to prop up a brutal dictator in some mysterious land e because of a foreign policy crafted by a president with whom I always disagreed.
Habre was just one in a long line of really bad dictators who became America’s buds under the ancient proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s nothing new, as the phrase is found in a Sanskrit disquisition on statecraft, dating back to around the 4th Century B.C., meaning that two parties should work together against a common enemy, even if they hate each other.
Now that the Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan, it seems that their sworn enemy is the Islamic State Khorasan, a.k.a. ISIS-K, which was formed in 2015, as an offshoot of ISIS. ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in Kabul that killed 13 American service members and scores of Afghanis. By the way, ISIS-K hates the Taliban and the U.S. and voila, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
This is the same Taliban that provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda, the same Taliban that the U.S. fought for two decades before realizing the futility of it, the same Taliban that came to power in 1994 after the Soviet army ran with tail between legs, from Afghanistan in 1989. The same Taliban that used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. This is the same Taliban that barred women and girls from most jobs or going to school.
So no, the Taliban are not good guys but this has not stopped the U.S. from cozying up to brutal leaders in the past and in fact, it has been a seminal part of U.S. foreign policy for many years. So a pact with the devil in the form of the Taliban will not be a great surprise.
For a little more on Habré, a Chadian truth commission found that while in power from 1982 to 1990, his government killed more than 40,000 people believed to be enemies of the state, including those who had merely come under suspicion. He was the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by another country’s courts. Habré had his just desserts when he lost power in a coup in 1990. Reed Brody, a longtime activist for Habré victims, told he N.Y. Times that the former president would “go down in history as one of the world’s most pitiless dictators, a man who slaughtered his own people to seize and maintain power, who burned down entire villages, sent women to serve as sexual slaves for his troops and built clandestine dungeons to inflict medieval torture on his enemies.” And if Reed Brody knew that stuff, you can be sure that the U.S. administration also knew.
Saddam Hussein was the evil dictator of Iraq and the impetus for the U.S. invasion but he had American support during the Iran-Iraq War that was fought from 1980–88, including billions of dollars worth of economic aid, sale of dual-use technology, non-U.S. originated weaponry, military intelligence and special operations training.
A 2003 White House report said that for two decades, Saddam’s regime killed, tortured, raped and terrorized the Iraqi people and their neighbors. Many hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of Saddam’s actions, the vast majority of them Muslims. Saddam had about 40 of his own relatives murdered and there have been documented chemical attacks by the regime, from 1983 to 1988, resulting in an estimated 30,000 Iraqi and Iranian deaths. Saddam Hussein was not a nice man but he was the enemy of Iran the arch-foe of the U.S.
The U.S. has long supported authoritarian rulers because of realpolitik, strategic and Machiavellian concerns that had nothing to do with morality but the strategy has done much to sew hatred of American. This is by no means an exhaustive list but some countries that continue to get big U.S. bucks despite dismal human rights records, include:
* Egypt: For three decades, America supported the authoritarian, Egyptian government with $60 billion in aid over the last 30 years and then came the Arab Spring. President Hosni Mubarak stepped down during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and was later convicted of negligence for not stopping the killing of peaceful protesters during the revolution, according to a report in Salon.com.
* Saudi Arabia: The U.S. has provided Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars in weapon sales, is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner and Saudi Arabia is one of the United States’ largest trading partners in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the third leading source of imported oil for the United States.
* Jordan: Jordan has received hundreds of millions in U.S. military aid and Human Rights Watch reported that “Torture, routine and widespread in recent years, continues, in particular at police stations, where complaints about ill-treatment increased in 2009 and again in 2010.” There is also no freedom of speech in Jordan, with steep penalties for criticizing the king or the government.
* Turkmenistan: Millions of dollars in aid has flowed to Turkmenistan, which borders Afghanistan and is considered to be of strategic importance. The Turkmenistan president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, leads an extremely repressive regime that has been accused of many human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary arrests, restrictions on religious freedom and violence against women. He may be so mean because nobody can pronounced his name, sorry, a feeble attempt at humor.
* Uzbekistan: Another Central Asian nation that borders Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has maintained consistent U.S. support despite repression, that Human Rights Watch said include torture and “Government-initiated forced child labor during the cotton harvest continues.”
* Equatorial Guinea: American companies discovered large oil reserves in the 1990s in the waters of Equatorial Guinea and that led to continuing overtures of friendship from the U.S. although President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who took over in a coup in 1979, has presided over a regime that is “mired in corruption, poverty, and repression,” “regularly engages in torture and arbitrary detention” and distributes the nation’s oil revenues to the president’s family and allies.
Inevitably, regimes that torture and otherwise violate the freedoms of its people fail,U.S. interests are damaged and and there is no reason to believe that if the U.S. supports the Taliban that it would end in any other way.