"Enemies" of the U.S.

The New York Times "The Upshot" blog published a report on polling about perceptions on what country is an "ally" or enemy of the United States. The polling was divided in overall, Democrats' and Republicans' views. The question by YouGov was

From January 28 - February 1, 2017, YouGov asked 7,150 adults living in the United States the question:
"Do you consider the countries listed below to be a friend or an enemy of the United States?"

Almost nothing about the results was unexpected; the usual bogeymen ranked high as "enemies". I suppose the poll may not be scientifically representative to the highest standards, but I also believe that almost all of the results are representative.

I saved this as a bookmark for later use and after all the political reality disconnects of the past weeks I think it's a nice excuse for a roundhouse kick on questionable security policy world views:

The worst-rated ("enemies") countries were (for Republicans)

North Korea (worst)
Palestinian Territories
South Sudan

Let's look at those, one by one. The descriptions obviously aren't 100% complete, but I suppose the most important issues get mentioned.

North Korea
  • a hereditary tyranny with fig leaf of communist ideology
  • in Asia
  • effectively no human rights there
  • started a war of aggression against South Korea 66 years ago, was subsequently pushed back by -among others- U.S. forces
  • annoying loudmouthing as deterrence
  • built a few weak (and likely dirty) nukes for deterrence
  • provoked South Korea repeatedly, including sinking of a corvette a few years ago
  • annoying in its readiness to export weapons and munitions to countries not liked by the U.S.
  • no attacks on U.S. soil ever
  • potential nukes seller 
  • surprisingly, no Muslims here, but still at top of the list
The U.S. must be fantastically safe if this is the worst enemy.

  • a theocracy with elected parliament
  • in Asia
  • human rights issues, though surprisingly it's a more welcoming place to transsexuals than the U.S., since 1987
  • killed a few Americans and took many hostage at about the time of their revolution against a U.S.-backed tyrant - 37 years ago
  • attempted to enact a blockade against Iraqi oil exports (including through Kuwait) during its defensive war, was countered by USN
  • annoying in their (regional) great power gaming in which they are a patron to Shi'ite factions in other countries (where Shia are often more or less oppressed by Sunni governments)
  • did support some Shi'ite groups considered terrorist by the U.S. government
  • annoying loudmouthing and grandstanding (though the worst example is long out of office)
  • were on the verge of being able to become a nuclear power in a few years
  • the U.S. -which otherwise insists a lot on freedom of navigation - is super-irritated when USN ships encounter Iranian warships and boats close to the Iranian coast, used to shoot them (and an airliner) on sight during the 80's
  • a tyranny with an ongoing civil war including the human rights abuses typical of both tyranny and warfare
  • in Asia
  • did literally nothing to the U.S.
  • hosts military bases for Russia, thus giving them a foothold in the region
  • did have chemical munitions until recently, may have used them
  • the government-opposing faction Daesh (also the brand du jour for asswipes who want to commit terrorism anywhere and want to freeride on some corporate identity and marketing machine) is centred in Syria's rural East, but has little popular support
  • another government-opposing kinda-Al Qaida faction is there as well
  • tolerates that the U.S. and other foreign powers bomb Daesh on its soil
  • hardly a state any more
  • in Africa
  • is in a civil war
  • one civil war faction is a (currently badly losing) Daesh offspring
  • the long-ousted leader of Libya was a delusional case of loudmouth, supported some terrorism in the 80's and supported Muslim insurgencies in Africa, especially Chad
  • Libya got bombed by the U.S. decades ago, under Reagan
  • Iraq's government is supported by and friends with the U.S. government
  • in Asia
  • is in a civil war
  • Daesh controls some territories of Iraq
  • Iraq is fighting Daesh with support by U.S.
  • the long-ousted leader of Iraq had and used chemical munitions (particularly in his U.S.-tolerated war of aggression against Iran), attacked and occupied Kuwait until kicked out by coalition forces including mostly U.S. forces, was a loudmouth and supposedly once sent assassins after George Bush
  • Afghanistan's government is supported and subsidised by the U.S.
  • in Asia
  • Taliban are at home in Afghanistan (and Pakistan); they harboured UBL and his AQ mercenaries 15 years ago - before he admitted being behind 9/11
  • Taliban were attacked and pushed out of power by U.S. in 2001, they kept fighting a guerilla war against the Afghan government and its foreign allies on Afghan soil ever since
  • Afghanistan is fighting against Taliban together with U.S.
  • Afghanistan applies tribal customs that overlap with "Sharia" (!!!) law
  • a failed state that broke down a quarter century ago already
  • in Africa
  • only the North is somewhat orderly (an unrecognised proto-state hoping for international recognition of its secession), while the government in the South depends on foreign support to maintain a façade of statehood in a society divided by clan allegiances and conflicts
  • some Salafist faction exists, but has no role outside of Somalia and very close areas
  • became a piracy heaven years ago (now suppressed) for want of governmental enforcement of order
  • one clan once gave U.S. special forces a bloody nose in a botched raid some 23 years ago
Palestinian Territories
  • geographically and politically divided into two by now very different parts 
  • in Asia
  • inhabited mostly by Sunni Arabs
  • were occupied (illegally) by Israel for decades, West Bank is still mostly occupied and gets illegally colonised by Israel
  • Palestinians were involved in uprisings against Israeli occupation and engaged in skirmishes on and off for decades
  • some Palestinians welcomed the 9/11 strikes in 2001
  • Palestinians were involved in much terrorism, particularly during the 70's and 80's and related primarily to the conflict with Israel, secondarily to because of ideological links with wannabe communist terrorists
  • waged a quite genocidal war against its South for a long time, but South Sudan ceded years ago
  • in Africa
  • some ongoing conflicts with South Sudan
  • harboured UBL during the 90's, then evicted him (he fled to Afghanistan) 
  • had a fertiliser factory bombed by the U.S.
  • only (Sunni) Muslim-dominated country that has nukes
  • in Asia
  • used to be a military dictatorship, is approximating a presidential republic nowadays
  • is seemingly perpetually stuck in a mini cold war with India
  • has territorial conflict with India (Kashmir)
  • didn't police mountainous ("tribal") areas in the West for a long time, which led to a domestic conflict win the area
  • military intelligence service is widely believed to have de facto founded Taliban, and supported them well past 2001
  • home of many really bad phone call centres
  • used to be separated into a typical but practically oilless Arab state and a pseudo-socialist somewhat modernised state until a unification in 1990
  • in Asia
  • AQ attack on USS Cole happened in Aden 16 years ago 
  • government wasn't able to police the country properly, but tolerated U.S. surveillance assassination campaign with aerial drones for years
  • domestic tensions and conflicts erupted in civil war (depending on how you want to write down history, the war began 2004 or maybe 2011)
  • Shi'ite Houthi faction was about to become dominant until Sunni Arab dictators intervened against it militarily
South Sudan
  • in Africa
  • I'm at a loss here why South Sudan might be considered an enemy of the United States. It may involuntarily be the host of Joseph Kony (LRA from Uganda, infamous for leading child soldiers and many war crimes) and "South Sudan" sounds like "Sudan". I can't think of anything else that a majority of Americans might know about.
  • Only about 18% Muslims here
  • Lebanon was civil war-torn especially in the 80's, suffering in part form an Israeli invasion
  • in Asia
  • the country is so very heterogeneous in ethnicity, religion and politics that speaking of one county is misleading
  • one faction truck-bombed U.S.Marines barracks in Lebanon, which convinced Reagan that the region is too nuts to deal with. Reagan withdrew U.S. forces after claiming to be unimpressed and ordering some punitive bombings.
  • South Lebanon is dominated by Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which opposes and occasionally skirmishes with Israel, even prompting a war in 2006
  • one of the 9/11 hijackers was from Lebanon. Lebanon is the ONLY country on this short list that was homeland of a 9/11 hijacker, sponsor or planner
  • pseudo-communist dictatorship
  • in Americas (Caribbean)
  • played an important role during the Cold War, but has since become very unimportant
  • embarrassed the U.S: by repulsing a botched invasion attempt of proxies in 1961
  • used to export wannabe communist revolutionaries/guerillas in the 60's and 70's into Latin America, also into Angola against Apartheid South Africa's and the West's proxies
  • exile Cubans are fierce haters of the Cuban regime and loyal (R) voters (they likely tipped the scales in favour of Drumpf in Florida and thus overall)
  • practically no Muslims there, that's weird
- - - - -

This looks very much like a list of most miserable, suffering countries of the world (though Cuba, Lebanon and Pakistan would be misplaced and some places such as Eritrea missing) and much less like a list of countries that want to attack the U.S. or its allies, or did so. Such examples are actually a minority, and examples like the invasion of South Korea are ancient.

It's striking how hostility to these countries, their populations or their governments is no "winning" strategy. It's not "defeating" the hostility or regime. Cuba has faced U.S. hostility for more than 56 years and the regime is still in power. North Korea: 66 years. Iran: 37 years. Invading Iraq in 2003 evidently didn't remove it from this list. Generally, bombing or invading countries during the last ~40 years rather seems to add countries to this short list, not remove them.

It's also striking that Saudi-Arabia is missing. Only 42% of the responses rated it as an enemy or unfriendly. 
  • Saudi Arabia as a country (government and people) was and is the #1 sponsor and distributor of Wahhabism/Salafism, a.k.a. radical Islam.
  • Saudi-Arabia is a tyranny with a "royal" clan running a kleptocratic oligarchy
  • 15 of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi-Arabia
  • As was UBL himself
  • Saudis (not necessarily the ruling clan/clique) sponsored Taleban, AQ, Al Nusra Front and Daesh (though by now the government opposes Daesh as Daesh doesn't recognise the legitimacy of the Saudi tyrant clan).
  • The Saudi government ranks high in human rights violations, especially the oppression of women and Christians
  • Saudi public beheadings put Daesh to shame with their extreme quantity.
  • Saudi Arabia applies (its interpretation of) Sharia (!!!!) law.
They embody everything the average (R) voter is supposed to hate safe for delivering crude oil and petrochemical products to the world market. Saudi Arabia was NOT on the so called "Muslim Ban" list, of course.

- - - - -

I believe the American public is misinformed about the real hostility of countries, as well as about the roots of what hostility actually exists. The U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy are perfectly unsuitable to tone down such hostility and instead does the most possible to let it carry on to the next generation. A real security policy that's not great power gaming and instead really caring about security regarding foreign threats would be different. It would seek to reduce hostilities, even if there's a parallel containment effort that reduces the freedom of action that aggressive foreign rulers have.

There is an upside: The PR China didn't make it high on the Republicans' "enemies" list (yet?), so presumably there's today not much political freedom of action for the current U.S. government to turn more confrontational in the West Pacific than it already did with Obama's/HRC's "Pivot to Asia".



  1. Saudi-Arabia didn't make the visa ban list because it was based on another list that was compiled during the Obama administration. However, that is not to say that Obama was very appreciative of the alliance with Saudis. He was actually (quite correctly) concerned over SA influence and continuous machinations. That said, he treaded this topic quite carefully (like all the issues he faced) because he understood that a clearly visible u-turn in relations would most likely create more problems than solve.
    I would like to see Trump continue the change in policy towards SA that Obama started, but I highly doubt it is going to happen. The fact that the American public is mis- or underinformed should come as no surprise to anyone. It is the result of decades of political circus that has culminated with Trump becoming the president. The American politicians are all to blame for this mess.

    Not that Europe has it any better...

  2. And Russia makes the list for the Democrats. Since when did the Democrats (really I should say liberals) care about the Soviets, er I mean Russians. Ha ha ha.