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Allies and Enemies

in the war on Terror

Hoover Institution Working Group on Military History

Friends, Enemies, and Frenemies


Military History


Who are our allies and enemies in the war on terror? Needless to say we have plenty
of bothand also a number of frenemies that could easily fit into both categories.
Alas few of the allies are as dedicated and single-minded in their devotion to victory as
most of our enemies are.
Start with the enemiesa category easier to define, at least initially. Our obvious
foes may be found among Islamist extremists of both Shiite and Sunni persuasion.
Among the Shiites this means Iran and especially its Quds Force, which is charged
with exporting revolution and terrorism abroad. The Quds Force typically operates
through proxies such as Lebanese Hezbollah, the Alawite regime of Bashar Assad in
Syria, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and other Shiite militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen.
These Shiite militants have been waging war on the United States ever since the 1979
Iran hostage crisis and the 1983 bombings of the US embassy and the marine barracks
in Beirut. In more recent years the Iranian network has supplied munitions such as
explosively formed projectiles that have killed and maimed significant numbers of US
troops in Iraq, while also plotting, inter alia, the assassination of the Saudi ambassador
in Washington. The Quds Force has been enjoying considerable success oflate,
with its protgs in Iraq and Lebanon dominating large swaths of those countries,
theirprotgs in Syria recovering some lost ground, and their protgs in Yemen
entering the capital, Sanaa.
This radical Shiite offensive has, however, caused considerable consternation among
Sunnis in the region, thus leading to a pushback that has energized radical groups
such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The ranks of Sunni
extremists also include, of course, core Al Qaeda in Pakistan and numerous far-flung
affiliates such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Shabaab in Somalia,
AlQaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and so on, to say nothing of
groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Taliban, which are not formally affiliated
with Al Qaeda but work closely with it. All these organizations are avowed enemies
ofthe United States although the degree to which they actually focus on attacking the
United States and its interests varies: AQAP is the most focused on direct attacks on
the United States, along with apparently the Khorasan Group (part of the Nusra Front),
whereas the Haqqani Network and the Taliban have carried out countless attacks on

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US troops and personnel in Afghanistan. The others are more focused on regional
concerns and engaging in occasional cross-border terrorism, such as Shabaabs attack
in 2013 on a shopping mall in Nairobi.
So far, so easy: few would deny that these terrorist groups are enemies of the
UnitedStates in the war on terrorism. Who are our allies in the struggle against these
militants? That too is easy to answer, at least initially. Our most stalwart allies, at least
from a military perspective, have been our fellow Anglo-sphere powersCanada,
Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdomall of which have offered troops
who will actually fight in both Afghanistan and Iraq. France too belongs in this
category, given its willingness to send troops not only to Afghanistan but also to
Mali where those troops were essential in breaking the control of Al Qaedaaffiliated
militants in the northern part of the country. Israel has been just as staunch in
conducting military operations against the Islamist groups on its frontiersHamas
and Hezbollah principally. Israel has also bombed nuclear sites in Iraq and Syria in
years past to keep those states from acquiring nuclear weapons and has threatened to
bomb Iranian nuclear installations as wella threat the United States is eager to avert
for fear of triggering a larger regional war. Somewhat less stalwart have been European
states such as Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany, which have contributed
troops in Afghanistan and/or Iraq but have done so under caveats that greatly limit
their exposure to combat.
Now we come to the harder-to-categorize states in the greater Middle East, stretching
from West Africa to South Asia. None of the Sunni states in this area is sympathetic
toShiite extremism or for that matter to Shiites in general. But many of them have
hadan equivocal attitude, at least in the past, toward Sunni extremism. As is well
known, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups such as the Taliban received a good deal
of funding and many volunteers from the Persian Gulf kingdoms that, at the same
time, were nominally allied with the United States in the war on terror. The leader
is SaudiArabia, which began to get serious in cracking down on Al Qaeda only after
two high-profile attacks occurred in the kingdom in 2003. Al Qaeda and its affiliates
continue to get some funding and support from the gulf but less than before, thus
making most of those states good allies in the war on terror. That was made clear by
the willingness ofBahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar
to participate in US airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. (Kuwait is mysteriously absent from
this list despite owing its independent existence to US military action.)

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Yet at least some of these states, notably Qatar, continue to hedge their bets. Although
not a supporter of Al Qaeda, Qatar, along with Turkey, has been a leading supporter
of the Muslim Brotherhood in its struggle for power across the region. Qatar has
propagandized for this movement through its Al Jazeera network and directly funded
it. It has also provided a safe haven and platform for the fiery Egyptian preacher
Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, who has inspired Brotherhood cadres, as well as Qatari
professor Abdul Raman Omeir al-Naimi, who has been named by the Treasury
Department as a terrorist financier of Al Qaeda. This has put Qatar at odds not only
with the United States but also with other Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain,
and the United Arab Emirate (UAE), all of which in March withdrew their ambassadors
from Doha. The conflict has spilled across the regionfor example, in Libya where,
with help from Egypt, UAE warplanes in August bombed militant groups supported
by Qatar. Naturally, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has been
careful to cover his bases: while supporting the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood
movement, he also hosts American military forces at the Al Udeid airbase, home to the
forward command post of the US Central Command. This is a typical bit of Middle
Eastern hypocrisy designed to ensure that no matter who comes out on top in the
regional struggle, Qatar will be a winner. But it is hypocrisy the United States should
not tolerate. The Al Udeid base gives us some leverage; we should threaten to remove it
unless Qatar provides more aid in the war on terror.
In addition to Qatar, Turkey under the Islamist Erdogan regime is also a frenemy. It
hosts a US air base (at Incirlik) and is even a member of NATO. It has provided troops
in Afghanistan. But it has also emerged, along with Qatar, as a leading supporter of the
Muslim Brotherhood, including terrorist organizations such as Hamas, and a leading
critic of Israel. US anger at Turkey should be tempered, however, by the possibility
that it could become an important part of the solution in Syria should the Obama
administration ever get serious about removing Bashar Assad from power. That is
a goal that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formerly prime minister and now president, has
sought since the start of the anti-Assad revolution in 2011. He rightly sees Assad as the
heart of the problem in Syria, for it is Assads continuing rule that drives the conflict
and leads large numbers of refugees to flood into southern Turkey. Were Erdogan
to be assured of US and international support, he could potentially use the Turkish
armed forces to establish safe havens in parts of Syriaan important step toward
the downfall of the Assad regime and the construction of a postwar Syria dominated
neither by the Quds Force nor by Sunni extremists such as the Nusra Front and ISIS.

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Whereas both Qatar and Turkey are troublesome, neither is as vexing to the
UnitedStates as another frenemy: Pakistan. Although receiving an estimated
$26billion in US aid from 2002 to 2012, Pakistan has never stopped supporting
Islamist extremists such as the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar al Taiba,
all of which are, to one extent or another, under the direction of the armys InterServices Intelligence (ISI). There is even widespread suspicion that Pakistans military
leaders knowingly let Osama bin Laden live in Abbottabad, close to their own
militaryacademy. Just about the only Islamist terrorist group that Pakistan actively
opposes is the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP, or Pakistani Taliban) because it is a direct threat
to the state in Islamabad. The United States has tried threatening and bribing Pakistan.
Neither has worked because ISI views groups such as the Haqqanis and Taliban as vital
proxies for Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. The United States is not about to go to
war with a nuclear-armed state such as Pakistana course more or less urged by former
Afghan leader Hamid Karzaibut it can at least stop subsidizing Pakistans support
So far this article has focused on states. But we should not forget that some of the
most important friends or enemies we can have are substate actors such as the Sunni
tribes of Iraq. In 2007 during the surge they flipped against Al Qaeda in Iraq, thus
sealing its doom. Today ISIS will not be defeated until we can once again mobilize the
tribes to take up arms. A small step in that direction was taken when Nouri alMaliki,
whohad alienated Iraqi Sunnis with his sectarian Shiite agenda, was replaced as
prime minister by Haidar al Abadi, another Shiite from Malikis own Dawa Party but
one who promises to be more inclusive. But much more can and should be done to
recruit the tribes to our side in the war on terror. The important thing Washington
can do is end our dalliance with Iran. From the perspective of Sunni Arabs, the Obama
administration has been dangerously weak on Tehran: Obama has relaxed sanctions
on Iran and signaled his eagerness for a nuclear deal even at the cost of recognizing
Irans right to enrich but doing little to oppose the designs of Iranian proxies in Iraq,
Lebanon, or Syria. In the latter country Obama even appears to have backed off on his
opposition to Bashar Assadcertainly US aircraft are not bombing Assads position
even as they enter Syrian airspace to attack ISIS. The Sunni tribes are unlikely to join
any coalition that they believe includes the Persians (as they refer to the Iranians). If
the United States wants to recruit the tribesand this should be our top priority
we need to signal a tougher line against Iran and its forces, for example, by blasting
Assads warplanes out of the sky and demanding that Shiite militias in Iraq pull back
south of Baghdad.

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This is not meant by any stretch of the imagination to be a comprehensive list of allies
and friends in the war on terror. Such a list would run to encyclopedic length and
would at any rate be subject to constant revision. Lord Palmerton famously said,
Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests. But
in the Middle East this is not altogether true because national views of ones interests
can change with dizzying rapiditywitness how Egypt went from being a supporter of
the Muslim Brotherhood to a bitter enemy as soon as Mohamed Morsi was toppled in
2013 and replaced by Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

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Max Boot Friends, Enemies, and Frenemies

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Working Group on the Role of Military History

inContemporary Conflict

About the Author

The Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior
Fellow in National Security
Studies at the Council on Foreign
Relations, Max Boot is the author
of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small
Wars and the Rise of American
Power, War Made New: Technology,
Warfare, and the Course of History,
1500 to Today, and, most recently,
the New York Times best-seller
Invisible Armies: The Epic History
of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient
Times to the Present.

Hoover Institution, Stanford University

434 Galvez Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6010

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The Working Group on the Role of Military History in

Contemporary Conflict examines how knowledge of past
military operations can influence contemporary public
policy decisions concerning current conflicts. The careful
study of military history offers a way of analyzing modern
war and peace that is often underappreciated in this age of
technological determinism. Yet the result leads to a more
in-depth and dispassionate understanding of contemporary
wars, one that explains how particular military successes
and failures of the past can be often germane, sometimes
misunderstood, or occasionally irrelevant in the context
ofthe present.
The core membership of this working group includes David
Berkey, Peter Berkowitz, Max Boot,Josiah Bunting III, Angelo
M.Codevilla, Thomas Donnelly, Admiral James O. Ellis Jr.,
ColonelJoseph Felter, Victor Davis Hanson (chair), Josef Joffe,
Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Edward N. Luttwak,
Peter Mansoor, General Jim Mattis, Walter Russell Mead, Mark
Moyar, Williamson Murray, Ralph Peters, Andrew Roberts,
Admiral Gary Roughead, Kori Schake, Kiron K. Skinner, Barry
Strauss, Bruce Thornton, Bing West, Miles Maochun Yu, and
Amy Zegart.
For more information about this Hoover Institution Working Group
visit us online at www.hoover.org/research-topic/military.

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