The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a Cold War-like mentality that the United States has operated under for decades and decades. Perhaps it’s natural, human, tribalism to do this. Or at the very least, it’s coldly pragmatic. If your enemy is the Godless Soviet Union, then your friend are the Muslim "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan. A few decades later, radical Muslims are the real danger, and backing sometimes-Marxist, occasionally "terrorist," occasionally terrorist-fighting Kurds is just another logical option.
Unfortunately, that sense of fluid morality has a downside, and that’s engendering a reactionary spirit in people. That, in part, explains the appeal of Donald Trump to people who rightly hate neocons and their decades of murders. The neocons, the hawkish right, whatever you want to call them, or they want to call themselves, spent the entire 2016 election wringing their hands over Trump. They were horrified that this man who, when occasionally coherent, thumbed his nose at the Iraq war, and scolded the endless conflict doctrine of the war on terror…at least, sometimes. He also was ready to kick ISIS ass whenever prodded on the issue, and is a flimsy straw to grasp at.
But Trump, for all of his inability to pick a mandate, will never be enough for the truly bloodthirsty visionaries. Barack Obama earned a nonsense reputation as a dove who apologizes for America right and left – never mind his war in Libya, and his unprecedented drone use, and kill lists. Now Trump has said too much, and his lashed out at sacred cows such as Sen. John McCain too often to ever be hawkish enough. He is both an empty suit who blows with the prevailing winds, and someone who is clearly not quite part of the inner circle of the perpetually war-hungry.
It is tempting to watch Trump fight with the security state and give the neocon elites heart attacks and to cheer him on. It’s laughable to watch former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright bemoaning Trump’s rhetoric being a terrorist recruitment tool, considering her "the price was worth it" Iraq sanctions comment that should live in infamy. (She is correct that Trump’s anti-immigrant decisions and rhetoric are foul, but the woman, like all powerful people, seems to have been born without a self-awareness gene.)
No matter how many hawkish villains dislike him, Trump is not a friend to peace either. In the most literal sense of the word, he is happy to continue the status quo of America. During his quasi-State of the Union address earlier this week, he said, in case we weren’t clear, "Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve" in his country. No doubt to the relief of defense contractors the country over, Trump also praised Lockheed Martin for getting the price of their F-35 under control (relatively speaking).
Consistent antiwar people understand that just because Obama started fewer boots on the ground, full-on wars than his predecessor, that doesn’t excuse him. The reason war is so important an issue is that it’s life and death. And you can’t fix death. Politicians will forever believe that they can escape fault if they retire with dignity, start up painting, or looking thoughtful and conflicted about their past decisions. We let them do this with a minimum of fuss. But blood on your hands is permanent.
It may be naive to think that life, or America, can go from the war on terror to peaceful in one step. But it’s also morally wrong to be breezily incremental on matters of life and death. Zero tolerance for murder of innocents shouldn’t be a bold stance to take, but it unquestionably is. And it must continue to be the stance we take under President Trump.
On matters of war, Trump has already behaved shamefully recklessly by okaying the Yemen raid that killed somewhere between nine and several scores of innocents. It also lead to the death of a Navy SEAL, who has served a convenient shield for any critiques lobbed Trump’s way. It’s early in his job yet, and if he turns out less disastrous than the previous presidents, a tepid hurray for him. But it is the job of the antiwar advocate to still remind him and his cabinet of every bit of unnecessary blood they spill, and to never forgive or forget that, simply because more blood could always have been spilt.
Furthermore, this idea that war-making should be tidily divorced from domestic tyranny is foolish. If Trump and his ilk get as bad as they have threatened to be on matters of immigration and on criminal justice, only a renewed confidence from feds and militarized police can follow. A border Berlin Wall, and yet another sequel to the war on drugs, flirting with separating immigrant families, none of this can be done in a peaceful, consensual manner. And none of this is good, simply because it is part of what makes the neocons wince and squirm. Real, principled peace cannot be acquired through reactionaryism or schadenfreude. A respect for people, and a refusal to steal from them, hurt them, split up their families, or kill them when they are behaving nonviolently is the only way.
Trump could end up an improvement because of his dartboard of policies, and because he can be pushed easily in one way or another (this is both extremely dangerous and potentially positive). Or he could end up as the nightmare liberals are currently having. Regardless, the job of the antiwar advocate remains the same. We must always take a cold look at power and the violence that comes with it like a conjoined twin. The necons will never be our friends simply even when they’re aghast at Trump, but neither is Trump a friend of the people simply because he butts heads with hawks from time to time. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, no matter what the US and the USSR tried to insist during the Cold War. The peace advocate knows this. They know that it’s individuals and families who matter, and who are the ones hurt by the men and women who have great, big plans for their country, and for the world, no matter the cost.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.