The U.S. Has Rivals and Competitors, Not Enemies

“A Gallup poll,” Libby Quaid wrote for the Associated Press on June 2nd, “found that two-thirds of [Americans] said they believe it would be a good idea for the president to meet with the leaders of enemy countries.”

Who are they referring to? An enemy is a country with whom a nation is at war. “Enemy countries”? We have enemies (hi, Osama). We have critics. We even have competitors. But the United States doesn’t have enemy countries.

September 11 aside, citizens of the United States should feel secure. We border big oceans and two close allies–more like wholly owned subsidiaries. As for the rest of the world, well, they’ve been pretty nice to us.

Not that we deserve it. Since 1941, the U.S. has attacked, among others, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Not once were we defending ourselves. We were always the aggressor. Over the course of six decades during which we were the world’s leading instigator of armed conflict, no one attacked us–not even the people we attacked! No one declared war upon us.

Yet everywhere you turn, on every channel and in every newspaper, there’s some politician or journalist using that word to describe another country: enemy. John McCain bashes Barack Obama for appeasing “the enemy” (he means Iran). Writing in the Wall Street Journal, also about Obama and Iran, Joe Lieberman sniped: “Too many Democrats seem to have become confused about the difference between America’s friends and America’s enemies.” After 9/11 self-loathing gay neoconservative blogger Andrew Sullivan called opponents of the Bush Administration “the enemy within the West itself–a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column.” The Bush Administration even incorporates the E-word in a term it invented, found nowhere in U.S. or international law, to describe its political prisoners: “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Enemies! Enemies! Enemies! Enemies everywhere, but never an attack.

Slacker enemies!

Iran isn’t an enemy. It’s a regional rival, a competitor, and a relatively good-natured one at that. Not only did the Iranians open a western front against the Taliban during America’s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, they offered assistance to downed U.S. pilots. Iran has requested talks leading to the establishment of full diplomatic relations. We keep refusing. The British have since backed away from their claims that new Iranian-made improvised explosive devices were killing U.S. occupation troops in Iraq. (The story never made sense, given that they were used by Sunni insurgent groups–who hate Shiite Iran.)

Occasionally someone tries to point out the obvious: we’re not at war. No war = no enemies. It’s the truth. But the truth doesn’t go over well.

James Rubin, assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, was interviewed recently by the Journal‘s Paul Gigot on Fox News. “I think it’s quite clear that Iran and North Korea and others are a danger to the United States,” Rubin said.

Gigot laid into Rubin: “You said a danger, but you didn’t say enemies. Are they enemies?”

Rubin: “Well, I don’t know, you know, enemies–we’re not in a state of war with Iran. Traditionally, the word ‘enemy’ is for a state of war. We’re in a state war with the Shiite militias, with Al Qaeda, we’re in a state of war.”

Gigot: “But they’re contributing–“

Rubin: “Iran has policies that we object to and we reject, and we should confront.”

Gigot: “But they’re contributing to the deaths of Americans, if you listen to the American military, in Iraq, by supporting some of those rogue militias. Doesn’t that make them enemies?” [Ted here: These claims were debunked two years before this exchange.]

Rubin: “That makes them a country that is dangerous to the United States, and we need to confront that danger directly.” In other words, a country can supply weapons to your enemy without becoming your enemy. Which, considering that the U.S. is the world’s largest arms merchant, is a good thing. The last thing we need is more enemies! (Not that we have any now.)

Why do we call states with whom we disagree “enemies”? Religion writer Eboo Patel blames radical Islamists, and 9/11 for spooking us. “Terrorism,” Patel wrote in Slate, “is more than heinous murder and guerrilla theater. It is a kind of macabre magic intended to create the illusion of enemies everywhere.”

Trouble is, Americans were freaking out long before 9/11. The reason? American conservatives, whose views are automatically accepted as conventional wisdom before eventually getting discredited, constantly see monsters in closets full of nothing but outdated fashions. “Iran has been at war with us for 27 years, and we have discussed every imaginable subject with them,” shrieked The National Review‘s Michael Ledeen during 2006’s Iranian-IEDs-are-killing-American-soldiers propaganda campaign. “We have gained nothing, because there is nothing to be gained by talking with an enemy who thinks he is winning. From [the Iranians’] standpoint, the only thing to be negotiated is the terms of the American surrender.”

Twenty-seven years–what a war! How on earth did we fail to notice it?

And “surrender”! How exactly would surrendering to Iran work? Wouldn’t they have to attack us first, you know, just for show? Do snotty remarks about Israel count as actual attacks with bullets and stuff? How would the Islamic Republic’s modest military occupy the United States and beat its 300 million heavily armed citizens into submission?

Enemies? Not yet. But we’re working on it.



18 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Happy Tienemen Square Day, Y’all!!!

  2. John Madziarczyk Says:

    Indeed. I think that these folks secretly get a masturbatory thrill from being able to use words like “Enemy” and “Surrender”. It gets them off because it makes them feel important, like they’re Churchill-esque figures in the second world war, chomping on cigars, drinking whiskey, and being man’s men.

    The whole enemy game brings up an interesting thought: I wonder if North Korea would be as psychotic as it is now if the Korean war hadn’t happened…. the sort of siege mentality mindset, of being surrounded by enemies in fact, can be a great tool for ensuring the power of authoritarian regimes.

    Once you start constructive engagement that attitude and the things that are justified by it become less tenable.

  3. Andy Says:

    Ahem. I don’t usually comment when I agree with you but this time deserved it.

  4. Clownstotheleftjokerstotheright Says:

    This column sounds a lot like it could have been written by a republican circa 1939.

  5. Aggie Dude Says:

    Wow, excellent column, Ted, I’m going to use it in my class if that’s OK with you!

  6. Angelo Says:

    I think it is funny that we do not commemorate the various slaughters in our history, but we always cite other countries’ slaughters.

  7. Ted Rall Says:

    Aggie, Sure, it’s OK to use it your class. I’m honored! Hey Aggie, email me. I wanna ask you something.

  8. Ted Rall Says:

    As for the 1939 comment, it’s undoubtedly true that the U.S. should be prepared to defend itself from future external threats. But it doesn’t help preparedness to, as the right has done for years, constantly cry wolf about “threats” that are really something close to mere challenges.

  9. Clownstotheleftjokerstotheright Says:


    Very true. And I wasn’t (quite) knocking the column. Indeed, their actions are disgusting in that they are like the boy who cried wolf. How will ever be able to tell the real threats (which are and will be out there) from the bad?

    Still, weren’t we defending others in Korea (at least at first, before MacArthur went nuts)?

  10. Jana C.H. Says:

    Re Korea: As I vaguely recall from my days as a political science undergrad in the ’70s, someone in the Truman Administration made a foreign policy speech saying that the U.S. protective umbrella extended all the way to Japan. The Chinese took this to mean that we would fight to defend Japan but not Korea, so they gave the North a green light to unify the country militarily (Korea had been split for less than a decade at that time.) The invaders swept down the peninsula and left the non-Communist forces with only a toe-hold at Pusan.

    Geographically, Korea is a direct military threat to Japan, which it was our policy to control and protect. Thus the U.S. and its allies in the U.N.responded to a clear military threat to their interests. They did not respond militarily to a similar invasion of Tibet, which is a geo-political threat to India. We may or may not agree with the policies of the Truman Administration, but it wasn’t just attack-and-grab. The closest analogy in more recent times is the First Gulf War, which genuinely involved U.S. allies and had an extremely specific geo-political goal: return to the status quo.

    The Korean situation was (and is) a lot more complicated than speech-leads-to-invasion. If I’ve made mistakes, feel free to correct them. All those International Relations classes with Dr. Ziegler in Bellingham were a long time ago.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Dwight Eisenhower: Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. Frankly, I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.

  11. warshouldrise Says:

    So were the muslim extremists that slammed airplanes into the twin towers just crying wolf as well… how soon we forget the past. No, nix that, how soon you have chosen to edit the past as to fit your liberal theology.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    the reason why the us attacked North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos and Grenada is because of their anti-communist post wwII foreign policy and the reason why they attacked Libya and Iran is because we just dont like them (and the feeling is mutual)
    and the reason why they attacked Haiti and Somalia was to stop the country’s civil strifes and the reason why they attacked Yugoslavia and Sudan is because their goverments where committing genocide and the reason why they attacked Afghanistan is because the tailiban had links to al qaeda
    and the reason why they attacked Iraq is because of so many reasons i can’t tell them all and i’m not shure why they attacked Guatemala, Panama and the Philippines

  13. Angelo Says:

    you forgot El Salvador and Nicaragua.

    Was there some point to massacring countless civilians, kidnapping, torturing nuns and throwing them out of helicopters? Guess they were commies, eh?

    See Laetitia Boardes and Dianna Ortiz.

  14. Clownstotheleftjokerstotheright Says:


    That is an extremely good, succinct way of summing it up, no question. Though it was really more Stalin than Mao who gave the North, implicitly at least, the go-ahead. Also, the tenacity of the Americans (and the refusal of the Southern Koreans to welcome the North as liberators, which had been expected by the North, Mao, and Stalin) surprised the worst mass murderer in history and he quickly moved to pin the blame for the mess and the job of cleaning it up on to Mao, who, good soldier that he was, committed and almost pulled it off.

    Mao, by the way, lost a son to fighting in Korea. Indeed, though they did commit atrocities (what side doesn;t in war), the Chinese were damn good in Korea and it took us a while to figure out how to fight them. Sadly, those tactics, isolated strongholds, etc, were to be employed a decade later in Vietnam to much less success.

    Still, regardless of the reasons for our (and the UN’s) involvment, there are very few who who argue that the South would have been better off under the “care” of the Kim family.

  15. Angelo Says:

    The Kim family is not what makes North Korea suck. North Korea sucking is what has led to the Kim family.

    It is all FDR’s fault for delaying the crisis of capitalism. If we would just give Tom Friedman his way for another 10 years, The Kim family will be pushed out by Amerika about 5 years after capitalisms utter destruction at its own hands.

    Deregulate, deregulate, deregulate.
    Reagan was the ultimate commie.

    McCain 08!!! (Obama will probably do, too…)
    And if you are not in a swing state, support your favorite supply-side globalization advocate!

    No more band-aids. Let it bleed. I hereby coin the phrase “Reagan Red”
    I am a Reagan Red, are you?

  16. Angelo Says:


  17. DirtySok Says:

    A note to warshouldrise:
    No one has forgotten a thing here. Ted did not say that we don’t have enemies–He states very clearly in the second paragraph of the column that we do. His assertion with this piece is that America does not have any “enemy countries”. It’s a pretty sound statement as far as I can see: Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are our enemies because we are at war with them for what they did to us on 9/11. They comprise a group, not a country. Hence the whole assertion by Bush and company that captured fighters are not prisoners of war and our treatment of them does not fall under the Geneva Conventions; They aren’t from a particular country, they are a terrorist organization. Of course, if such things did really matter, considering where Osama Bin Laden is right now and the nationalities almost all of the 9/11 bombers, our military would be in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan right now, not Iraq and Afghanistan. Where, oh where, do our enemies lie…

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Effing brilliant, as per usual. I believe you to one of the top writers and journalists in this country today. As well as a great patriot. All the more amazing is that you continue to tell the truth as morons threaten you with death and your government spies on you. Thank you Mr Rall, thank you, Kel Brady

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: