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Book: Divide And Ruin: The West's Imperial Strategy In An Age Of Crisis

In this extract from his new book DAN GLAZEBROOK argues that the West's reliance on proxy forces globally is symptomatic of a deep-rooted crisis

Things were not looking good for imperialism in 2008.

The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, so loudly trumpeted as "victories" a few years earlier, were suffering increasingly heavy blows at the hands of dogged resistance movements and economic crisis had broken out across the entire Western world.

Huge chunks of the globe appeared to be breaking free from decades of subservience to US and European domination, with popular leftist movements coming to power throughout Latin America and Colonel Gadaffi's vision of an independent and anti-colonial African Union was gaining currency across the continent.

US weakness was underlined by a disastrous attempt to use Georgia as a stalking horse against Russia in a highly symbolic failure of Western military might to impose its will. Everywhere, it seemed, the neocolonial grip of US and Europe was being forced loose.

On an ideological level, imperialism had been exposed as never before.

The Iraq war turned what used to be treated as conspiracy theory - the notion that Western governments were prepared to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people in unprovoked acts of aggression to further their imperial interests - into incontrovertible common knowledge.

Meanwhile, the anti-globalisation movement - and even its Establishment counterpart, the Make Poverty History campaign - had alerted the Western public to the reality of debt extortion and the role of international finance in the perpetuation of Third World poverty and hunger.

No one could claim to be ignorant of the mechanisms by which the rich world kept the poor world poor anymore.

Many of us at the time felt that the game was up for the empire. Of course, the US and European ruling class was never going to simply give up its global dominance without a fight and history shows that it is precisely when they are losing power that ruling elites are at their most brutal.

But surely, it seemed, their aggression would from now on be exposed and isolated.

The idea that just three years later, leftists, liberals and Muslims the world over would be cheerleading the bombing of yet another Arab country by the very countries that had destroyed Iraq and would be doing so with apparent UN and Arab League support, seemed unthinkable.

The truth is that empire's strategy today is far more insidious than in the days of Bush and Blair.

Imperialism no longer swaggers onto the world stage in a cowboy hat declaring its determination to launch "'crusades" on behalf of the "haves and the have mores," to use the memorable phraseology of George W Bush. Its strategy today is a lot more cunning.

Its new wars are not, in the main, fought by white people in US and European uniform but by bearded jihadi militants, as in Libya and Syria, or black African armies, as in Mali, commanded by an "anti-war" politician of African heritage who came to power by posing as the very antithesis of Bush.

At the same time, imperialism's new wars are sold as responses to crises - the cry that "something must be done" to prevent genocide in Benghazi or Damascus seeming a lot more urgent than Bush and Blair's cack-handed attempts to craft justifications for wars to which everybody knew they were already committed.

This move to a reliance on proxy forces rather than imperialist troops, however, is not only an attempt to bewilder and confuse. It is also driven by the reality of military and economic crisis.

The estimated $3 trillion cost of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the domestic political difficulties resulting from tens of thousands of dead and disabled soldiers, and the inescapable fact of military defeat, mean that direct conquest and occupation is no longer a viable option.

The shift to war by proxy is thus also a sign of vulnerability and weakness. At the same time, economic and military crisis has led to a reduced ambition on the part of the imperial states.

As the late historian Eric Hobsbawm put it when I interviewed him in 2008, "[The US] can still destroy us all but it cannot make the world go its way any more." The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated this clearly.

The new governments in both countries, despite being the products of outright conquest by imperialism, often refuse to toe the line of their Western patrons, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai frequently denouncing US operations and recently signing a mineral rights deal with China, for example, and the Iraqis refusing to support Western foreign policy on Syria. The puppet master cannot even control his own puppets.

This is the natural result of Empire's declining economic influence. It cannot compete with the very generous terms of trade offered by China and is thus at risk of losing all its contracts in the third world.


For Western imperialism, today more than ever, strong independent Third World states are seen as a dangerous threat because all are viewed as potential economic partners of China.

Of course, during the cold war this was also true - every independent third-world state was a potential Soviet ally. But at least anti-communist strongmen could be relied on to pick the US as a partner rather than the USSR. The US could ultimately "outbid" its Soviet rivals for the allegiance of Third World states. This is what has changed. Backing the US and the West is increasingly a game of diminishing returns.

The West realises this, and understanding that any genuinely independent strong state is unlikely to do its bidding any more, prefers to see such states destroyed.

It is only in this context that we can understand the apparently ludicrous policies pursued by the West across the Middle East - the promotion of vicious sectarianism, the banning of major political parties, barring former officials from work and so on.

These policies are not designed to produce stable and compliant states, as in the past, because the West has realised that in its crisis phase such things are no longer possible. They are designed to produce weak and divided "failed states," which are unable to become regional powers in their own right and unable to become powerful allies of China or anyone else. Thus, the much-criticised "failure to plan" in Iraq was a plan in itself.

There is nothing new of course in the emergence of both these developments - the move to proxy war and the move to destroy, rather than control, potential regional powers. The British empire was largely built by proxy forces and attempts to destroy regional powers, and prevent their re-emergence, are as old as colonialism itself.

It could even perhaps be argued that it was the existence of the Soviet Union that forced a move away from this strategy as imperialism was forced to support strong states governed by anti-communist generals in order to crush the emergence of popular anti-colonial movements likely to ally with the USSR.

The current strategy could thus be seen as a "reversion to type" after a period of unwilling adjustment to the reality of a serious global challenge, coinciding with a similar "reversion to type" of capitalism itself, falling back into its natural crisis mode after a historically brief period of successfully postponing or exporting the impact of its inherent contradictions.

My book addresses the current crisis in its economic and its military aspects, illustrating the unfolding disaster of military occupation, not only for the native populations - never a concern for imperial planners - but also for the legitimacy of the belligerent states, both abroad and domestically, including among their own armies.

It looks too at the overall strategic imperialist response to this deepening crisis and at how empire has sought to manipulate events in Libya, Mali and Egypt to prevent the emergence of a unified and developed African bloc able to resist subordination to Western institutions.

And it examines the intricacies of imperialist war strategy in Libya and Syria through the media and entertainment industry presentations of these conflicts, along with the impact of imperialism's crisis strategy on oppressed communities in Britain and the unrest this has generated in response.


n Divide And Ruin: The West's Imperial Strategy In An Age Of Crisis is published by Liberation Media, price £12. Dan Glazeborook can be contacted at


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