2,400 Year Old “Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend” Myth Has Led to Insanely Stupid U.S. Foreign Policy

America Is Tangled Up In Impossibly Complicated Webs

The ancient idea that “The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend”  is widely attributed to the Arabs. But it is actually much older …  It originated in the 4th century B.C. in India.  Kautilya –  the “Indian Machiavelli” – wrote about the idea in the Sanskrit military book, the Arthashastra.

U.S. foreign policy has been guided by the “Enemy of My Enemy” idea for decades for decades.

Should we really be following 2,400 year-old advice from ancient India?

More importantly, is the saying even true?

As the following graphics demonstrate, basing modern foreign policy on such an archaic notion from ancient times is leading to ridiculous results:

(Washington Post)


(Daily Kos; a little dated, but still shows the absurdity of the situation)



(Gulf/2000 Project via Washington Post)


(The Daily Show)

Long-time insider Anthony Cordesman –  former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who also served in the State Department, Department of Energy, and was director of International Staff at NATO  – wrote in July:

It is … a proverb with a dismal history in practice. In case after case, the “enemy of my enemy” has actually proven to have been an enemy at the time or turned into one in the future. The Mongols did not save Europe from the Turks, and the Soviet Union was scarcely an ally after the end of World War II.


The United States needs to remember this as it considers military action in Iraq and reshaping its military role in Syria.

General and former CIA director Petraeus agreed earlier this month:

I went to hear a presentation by General David Petraeus … and this man who knows the Middle East as well as anyone in Washington made me think about things in a whole new way, by turning the adage on its head. Remember, he warned that in that part of the world, the enemy of my enemy is also still my enemy.

Time noted in 2002 that famed terrorist Abu Nidal was an enemy to both Israel and Palestine, committing terrorist attack after attack against both Jewish and Palestinian targets.

Abu Nidal went on to mastermind attacks on a Jewish school in Antwerp, synagogues in Vienna and Istanbul, and a Greek tourist ship. In December 1985 his group ambushed the El Al ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports, killing 14 bystanders.

The great irony of his career was that he did more to destabilize and stigmatize the Palestinians than to cause permanent harm to Israel — his declared enemy. In the mid-’70s, Abu Nidal was sentenced to death by the P.L.O. for plotting to kill Arafat. Between 1978 and 1983, he was responsible for the assassination of six of the P.L.O.’s most moderate diplomats. In 1982 the attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to Britain was attributed to his group — giving the Israelis a convenient pretext to invade Lebanon, in which Arafat had set up headquarters, and kick the P.L.O. out.


Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still the enemy.

A letter to the editor published in the Financial Times last month stated:

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.!

Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

And see this:

Following this 2,400 year old myth has caused America to back Al Qaeda and Nazis … and to fight against both sides in Syria.

(It has also led to carrying out regime change multiple times in the same country. )

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  • hsxnl

    Maybe, the picture is less insane if you realise that the governments of US/UK/IL/etc are puppets, controlled by the same puppet masters. The complicated tangle of (sometimes) conflicting relationships is one by design and allows for easy control by those masters.

    • Upone5738

      just before I saw the bank draft which said $8016, I didn’t believe …that…my friends brother could realey making money parttime from there

      pretty old laptop.. there uncles cousin has done this for less than 18 months and by now repaid the dept on their house and bought a brand new Mercedes. we looked here,… http://Google,/income.com

  • Upone5738

    decades for decades.

  • unheilig

    If Kautilya actually wrote that, the man was an idiot. Or whoever did.
    The enemy of my enemy is an unpredictable quantity whose interests may temporarily coincide with mine.
    There, fixed that for him.

  • Sifter

    Eurasia….Eastasia….. how prescient a novel!

  • Robert Barsocchini

    The Washington Post chart is typical WaPo propaganda, lying. It says the USA “has no clue” about Sisi. WaPo knows that’s a lie. The USA sends Sisi hundreds of millions in cash and weaponry as he uses rape as a weapon. USA same for Mubarak as he used rape as a weapon with US support for thirty years.

    It also says the US “has no clue” about the Muslim brotherhood. Another lie. The USA helped Sisi overthrow the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (because it wasn’t harsh enough towards Palestine), in the biggest street-slaughter of unarmed protesters in recent years. Human Rights Watch calls it “Egypt’s Tiananmen”. USA funded terrorist groups to help make it happen, then stocked the military with hundreds of millions in cash and weapons as it was carrying out the massacre. All public knowledge, public record.

    For publicity, the US cut a small percentage of the support, but continued the bulk of it, which included the guns most needed for the street-slaughter, much of which is on video.

    The chart also says the USA “hates” Al Qaeda. Another lie through over-simplification. The USA has used Al Qaeda on five or more separate occasions as proxy armies to overthrow governments.

    See my recent articles on Washington’s Blog for details on all of the above.

    The chart also leaves out that the USA supports – strongly supports – Turkey and Qatar. The USA has played a HUGE role – as in supplying most of the weapons and supplying crucial intelligence – in Turkey’s genocide against the Kurds.

    The chart is an excellent sample of US mass media propaganda, worthy of USSR Pravda. Saying the US does not support Egypt’s military dictatorship would be like Pravda saying the USSR did not support dictatorship in Hungary.

    WaPo is dangerous.

    • Rhan Tegoth

      Thanks, Obama!

  • flawless

    I’m nitpicking, but in the first graph, shouldn’t there be more “hate arrows” coming out of Israel?! eg Iran?

  • MCB

    1.We have convoluted alliances that somehow become even more convoluted and we create ever increasing numbers of enemies. Wac-A-Mol anyone?
    2. We have neo Keynesian economic stupidity having us kill ourselves financially.
    3. We are meddling in Ukrainian affairs and galvanizing a Russian/Chinese alliance that is undermining dollar hegemony and has us teetering on major regional war, if not all out WWIII.
    4. We have a Balkanized country where meaningless politics are more divisive than discussions of race or sex.
    5. We have Liberalism that has infected both political parties and turned them both into statist scum.
    6. Both statist parties have completely undermined and rendered our 4th Amendment inert and are doing a fine job of destroying our 1st and 2nd Amendments too.
    7. We couldn’t fail more quickly or sink more suddenly if we tried outside of a major domestic terrorist attack or all out WWIII.
    8. We’re done folks! It’s time to hit the reset button before we experience a total system crash…

    • glennk

      I’d replace the neo-Keynesian stupidity with Neo-liberal economic idiocy that over the past 35 yrs. has made income inequality so bad that the middle class is rapidly disappearing. I’d also add that our economic and political elites through one sided unfair trade deals have put a knife in the back of every American worker and for what? As for the Ukraine, its obvious the play here is to back up the Carbon Barons move to bottle up Russia and try to get Europe to switch to imported Marcellus shale Gas ASAP. Its also to try and destroy Russia , a fool hardy move if there ever was one. All one has to do is look at history to see how that turned out over the last 200 yrs. As for Liberalism infecting both parties. Really? I see it as the exact opposite. Neo-Liberal economic eleites have taken over both parties and turned them into Corp. shills. The US Gov’t is no longer a Gov’t for and by The People, its for and by the Big Int’l Corps. mostly the Wall st. banks and the Fossil energy barons.

  • glennk

    Oy. The only REAL ally we have in that region is Israel.

  • Thanks for the useful information of you. I will look forward to your next article.SwingOy. The only REAL ally we have in that region is Israel.

    • matthew millar

      Israel is all we need as an ally because they are gods people and the one’s who back Israel will at peace with god in the end days which are already around the corner.

    • Eurasia..Eastasia.. Insane! blog

  • Each thing we see
    Adriano Santos
    Job: Impressão UV
    São Paulo – SP

  • f Kautilya actually wrote that, the man was an idiot. Or whoever did.
    The enemy of my enemy is an unpredictable quantity whose interests may temporarily coincide with mine. Swing Thanks for sharing, that is really useful to me.

  • lovethefox

    great article!

  • Rick

    People don’t get it, chaos and fragmentation are the unofficial policy.
    Probably not long before we get the same.

  • Eurasia….Eastasia….. how prescient a novel!

  • Excelente post. Já está marcado nos meus favoritos, irei recomendar para a redação do


    Renata Araujo – Swing –

    Analista de programação Swing

    no jornal do povo

  • I’d replace the neo-Keynesian stupidity with Neo-liberal economic idiocy that over the past 35 yrs. has made income inequality so bad that the middle class is rapidly disappearing. I’d also add that our economic and political elites through one sided unfair trade deals have put a knife in the back of every American worker and for what?

  • Rodrigo Carvalho

    Politics is complicated.


  • Σοφία

    Thank You for Your effort. There is no country with the name North Cyprus. The Northern part of Cyprus is ilegaly occupied by the turkish army since 1974. There is NO regognition from the UNITED NATIONS for a country named Northern Cyprus. So, i wonder why You mentioned it….

  • Bradd Belasco

    while this article provides some interesting graphics. It misses the main point and trivializes the usefulness of the proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. It falsely assumes that the word friend is being used in a literal sense, however it is not, the phrase is meant to extol a military strategy of pitting two enemies against one another by supporting the weaker, or less dangerous foe, and strengthening him to fight with the stronger or more dangerous foe. By supporting the weaker enemy just enough to barely vanquish the stronger enemy, their war will end with one enemy defeated and the other weakened from the exertion of battle. At that critical moment your “friend” is in a vulnerable position and can then be destroyed easily, allowing for consolidation of your victory over both. Analyzing the proverb in a literal sense leads to the apparent absurdities profiled in this article only because the basic interpretation of the proverbs intent is logically flawed.

  • Pete

    As with any plan, you damn sure dont put all you eggs in the one basket.

  • Paulo Sanchez