I've read a few official documents in my time -- minutes, memoranda, reports, briefings, you name it. They tend to be opaque and filled with acronyms, jargon, and government-speak. Often the soulless work of marginally talented bureaucrats, they can make for dreadful reading. Then, of course, there are the exceptions. "This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration," begins one decades-old memo. A so-so start, to be sure, but wait for the next sentence: "Stated a bit more bluntly -- how we can use the available federal machinery to screw with our political enemies."
I told you: pure gold.
That August 16, 1971, memorandum, penned by President Richard Nixon's consigliere, John Dean, was titled "Dealing with our political enemies." It was the cover memo for Nixon's infamous "enemies list," the first of two sets of names that added up to a catalog of hundreds of perceived opponents, including everyone who was anyone, from Congressman John Conyers and journalist Daniel Schorr to actor Paul Newman and pantyhose pitchman (and football great) Joe Namath.
Outside the U.S., Nixon had no shortage of enemies, including those in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites, and of course "Red" China. In 1972, Nixon's trip to Beijing to meet Mao Zedong, the leader of the former Middle Kingdom, set the stage for improved relations after decades of chill. America's wars in Southeast Asia would end soon after and less than two decades later that communist behemoth, the Soviet Union, would vanish into the mists of history. After apparently trouncing Iraq in 1991, Washington found foes of any sort, large or small, in short supply.
A decade later, the U.S. had managed to accumulate 26 groups on its prime enemies list, the State Department's inventory of "foreign terrorist organizations." Included were the Real Irish Republican Army, Spain's Basque Fatherland and Liberty (better known as ETA), and a set of other outfits that seemed to pose little threat to the planet's "sole superpower." There was, of course, one 1999 addition to the list that proved notable: a group known as "al-Qaida" whose leader was "determined to strike in [the] U.S.," according to an intelligence briefing given to President George W. Bush in August 2001. The administration, however, didn't seem all that concerned -- until, of course, the intel proved accurate a few weeks later.
Since 9/11, 38 groups were added to the State Department's terror rolls, 10 of them in the last two years. The world is, again, awash in American enemies, from new additions like Libya's Ansar al-Shari'a in Benghazi and Nigeria's Boko Haram to that not-yet-officially-added recent scourge (and source of apoplexy among those running for the presidency), the Islamic State. In a world that, from the point of view of official Washington, is only getting darker, Nixon-era enemies are also returning to the fray, the focus of TomDispatch regular Michael Klare's latest offering. As the 2016 election campaign ramps up, get ready to hear far more about the grave, even existential threats posed by two oldies but goodies: Russia and China. Which one wins top honors in the 2016 enemies list sweepstakes will depend, as Klare makes clear, on who captures the White House. But with some version of Cold War 2.0 about to rear its ugly head, expect all of us to lose. Nick Turse
Russia vs. China
The Conflict in Washington Over Who Should Lead America's Enemies List
By Michael T. Klare
America's grand strategy, its long-term blueprint for advancing national interests and countering major adversaries, is in total disarray. Top officials lurch from crisis to crisis, improvising strategies as they go, but rarely pursuing a consistent set of policies. Some blame this indecisiveness on a lack of resolve at the White House, but the real reason lies deeper. It lurks in a disagreement among foreign policy elites over whether Russia or China constitutes America's principal great-power adversary.
Knowing one's enemy is usually considered the essence of strategic planning. During the Cold War, enemy number one was, of course, unquestioned: it was the Soviet Union, and everything Washington did was aimed at diminishing Moscow's reach and power. When the USSR imploded and disappeared, all that was left to challenge U.S. dominance were a few "rogue states." In the wake of 9/11, however, President Bush declared a "global war on terror," envisioning a decades-long campaign against Islamic extremists and their allies everywhere on the planet. From then on, with every country said to be either with us or against us, the chaos set in. Invasions, occupations, raids, drone wars ensued -- all of it, in the end, disastrous -- while China used its economic clout to gain new influence abroad and Russia began to menace its neighbors.
Among Obama administration policymakers and their Republican opponents, the disarray in strategic thinking is striking. There is general agreement on the need to crush the Islamic State (ISIS), deny Iran the bomb, and give Israel all the weapons it wants, but not much else. There is certainly no agreement on how to allocate America's strategic resources, including its military ones, even in relation to ISIS and Iran. Most crucially, there is no agreement on the question of whether a resurgent Russia or an ever more self-assured China should head Washington's enemies list. Lacking such a consensus, it has become increasingly difficult to forge long-term strategic plans. And yet, while it is easy to decry the current lack of consensus on this point, there is no reason to assume that the anointment of a common enemy -- a new Soviet Union -- will make this country and the world any safer than it is today.
Choosing the Enemy
For some Washington strategists, including many prominent Republicans, Russia under the helm of Vladimir Putin represents the single most potent threat to America's global interests, and so deserves the focus of U.S. attention. "Who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?" Jeb Bush asserted on June 9th in Berlin during his first trip abroad as a potential presidential contender. In countering Putin, he noted, "our alliance [NATO], our solidarity, and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build."
For many in the Obama administration, however, it is not Russia but China that poses the greatest threat to American interests. They feel that its containment should take priority over other considerations. If the U.S. fails to enact a new trade pact with its Pacific allies, Obama declared in April, "China, the 800-pound gorilla in Asia, will create its own set of rules," further enriching Chinese companies and reducing U.S. access "in the fastest-growing, most dynamic economic part of the world."
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military strategists of a seemingly all-powerful United States -- the unchallenged "hyperpower" of the immediate post-Cold War era -- imagined the country being capable of fighting full-scale conflicts on two (or even three fronts) at once. The shock of the twenty-first century in Washington has been the discovery that the U.S. is not all-powerful and that it can't successfully take on two major adversaries simultaneously (if it ever could). It can, of course, take relatively modest steps to parry the initiatives of both Moscow and Beijing while also fighting ISIS and other localized threats, as the Obama administration is indeed attempting to do. However, it cannot also pursue a consistent, long-range strategy aimed at neutralizing a major adversary as in the Cold War. Hence a decision to focus on either Russia or China as enemy number one would have significant implications for U.S. policy and the general tenor of world affairs.
Choosing Russia as the primary enemy, for example, would inevitably result in a further buildup of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the delivery of major weapons systems to Ukraine. The Obama administration has consistently opposed such deliveries, claiming that they would only inflame the ongoing conflict and sabotage peace talks. For those who view Russia as the greatest threat, however, such reluctance only encourages Putin to escalate his Ukrainian intervention and poses a long-term threat to U.S. interests. In light of Putin's ruthlessness, said Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a major advocate of a Russia-centric posture, the president's unwillingness to better arm the Ukrainians "is one of the most shameful and dishonorable acts I have seen in my life."