“Is ‘the enemy of my enemy Really my friend?’ Diplomats, corporate leaders, among others, don’t believe everything you think.”

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on April 08, 2010 with 2 Comments

Mickey Glantz. April 8, 2010. Written in Mexico City.

The phrase “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” has always captured my attention for some unknown psychological reason. It has been used in military strategy, business affairs, in personal decisions and in many, many types of human interactions. It is one of those social adages that we can find in all societies like “Look before you leap,” “He who hesitates is lost,” and “Time and tide wait for no man”. Every society has such adages, stated in more form or another. To many they serve as “rule of thumb” principles that in a general way are meant to guide one’s behavior.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is just another one sounds good at first blush. It probably lends itself to being formulated mathematically as a human interactions game in game theory. Maybe that is why it captures my curiosity. I am sure I have used it as a guide in some situations at work and at play. However, I believe it is a flawed consideration or perhaps more correctly an incomplete, “un-thought-out “one.

Historical evidence does suggest that this is as useful a guide to action as it is to inaction. As a result, one must see it in a more critical light. For example, the enemy of your enemy might not really be a friend in a different situation. Governments make deals with other governments or corporations under this guiding notion, even though they find them or their policies reprehensible. So, they end up having made, as they say, “a pact with the devil.” This is similar to what was said about the British Empire: it had no permanent friends. No permanent enemies; only permanent interests.”

British trade deals during World War I

British trade deals during World War I

Today, the oppressive government of Kyrgyzstan fell to an uprising in the streets. A deal made with the unpopular president to allow for a US base of operation to support the war in Afghanistan is now at risk as a new president appears. The unpopular decision will likely be revoked and the US become less popular at a time it needs all the friends it can get. A similar situation occurred some years ago with our base in Uzbekistan.

Make any deal with anyone to get what you want, But think about the likely longer term consequences more seriously. What may be true in the short run may turn out to have been a terrible decision in the longer run. Britain’s Chamberlain appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s obviously failed. US support of bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviet invaders in the late 1970s and 1980s is another example. Pakistan’s catering to the Taliban, allowing them to operate from their territory also backfired, as we now see. The Taliban, like the British Empire, has no permanent friends or allies only permanent interests.

Governments must think about this adage when they seek to make agreements with leaders of failed states, rogue nations, and other moves that they consider strategic but really turn out to be only tactical decisions with no longer term sticking power. The adage must be amended to read as follows: THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND…BUT ONLY FOR A WHILE. Diplomats, among others, beware of what you are getting into, when you make that pact with the enemy of your enemy. Your reputation as well as the stigma as a result of ‘guilt by association’ will have sticking power and you must live with the adverse consequences that often follow later on.

I am not the only one I guess who feels this way!

I am not the only one I guess who feels this way!


There are currently 2 Comments on “Is ‘the enemy of my enemy Really my friend?’ Diplomats, corporate leaders, among others, don’t believe everything you think.”. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. the best friends of USA are the Mexican drug lords, they are killing many Mexicans.

  2. Well it works.. and doesn’t work, on many levels. I know when attending any type of gathering that contains an enemy and many unknown attendeees.. the enemies of my enemy will be the first to welcome me. Whether that contact continues then depends on many things – just like regular friendships.

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