A review of ‘Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis’, by Dan Glazebrook,
Dr. Ama Biney
Individuals on the ‘left’, or those who prefer the characterisation ‘progressives’, ‘radicals’ or ‘activists’ are conscious of the fact that the imperialist leopard never changes its spots. Though it may appear to do so, the change is illusionary. Hence, the collection of articles in this new and slim volume reveal that since 2008, when ‘things were not looking good for imperialism’ (p. vii) with the onset of the capitalist economic crisis, it has meant that imperialism has resorted to reconfiguring strategies of domination and control over the planet’s resources and to eliminating governments and people that fail to demonstrate subservience to the whims and interests of empire. As Glazebrook argues, ‘The truth is that Empire’s strategy is far more insidious than in the days of Bush and Blair. Imperialism today 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’ (p. viii). In short, imperialism has shifted to wars by proxy – whether it be in Libya or Syria, which as the author claims, ‘is also a sign of vulnerability and weakness’ (p. viii). The reality is that ‘the puppetmaster cannot even control its own puppets’ (p. ix) and is competing with the generosity of trade offered by China to countries around the world, including many African nations. As Glazebrook writes, ‘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” (p. ix).
The collection of articles in this book reflect and comment on the political developments in Afghanistan, the Arab uprisings, Libya, Mali, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and AFRICOM. The book is divided into seven chapters and begins by looking at ‘Imperialism in Crisis’, which is the title of Part 1. It commences with a review of ‘The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences’ by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff. As the working classes of the developed world have seen a decline in their living standards, they are unable to purchase all that capitalism produces and have resorted to credit. Credit became the new ‘fix to that classic problem – if people cannot afford to buy all the crap they produce, well then we can lend them the money to do so!’ (p. 4). Glazebroook makes the important point that ‘the challenge for the left is to articulate both the temporary nature of capitalism’s fixes and of capitalism itself’ (p. 4). One may add that the left must also articulate alternative socialist economics to ordinary people, in a time when socialism has been and continues to be discredited by an imperialist and capitalist press. Part 2 of the book identifies that integral to the crisis of imperialism has been the rise of China (p. 9), which has ‘massively increased exports to Africa and Latin America’ and ‘this has left them much less vulnerable to US economic pressure’ (p. 9).
Part 2, ‘Imperialist Strategy in an Age of Crisis’, examines how privatisation and bombing, for example, of Libya, has been part and parcel of the strategy of divide and ruin. Part 3, ‘The Struggle Against Third World Development’, looks at how NATO sought to annihilate the economic vision provided by Gadaffi in terms of his plans for ‘a new gold-backed African currency, which would have cut yet another of the strings that keep Africa at the mercy of the West’ (p. 39) and how the execution of Gadaffi has destabilised the region with adverse consequences in Mali (p. 48) and French intervention in the former Francophone country.
Part 4, ‘The Planning and Execution of the War Against Libya’, is made up of five articles looking at how the NATO countries engineered the destruction and occupation of Libya: how AFRICOM cultivates client African states that by proxy will not only safeguard oil—of which more than 10% comes from Nigeria to the US—but will prevent American body bags returning to the US to a horrified US public. Hence, soon after Gadaffi’s execution, Obama sent 100 US special forces to four African countries and has escalated joint military training exercises with many African governments. This augurs gravely for the African continent. Glazebrook writes, ‘Gadaffi’s Libya had served not only as a crucial bridge between black Africa south of the Sahara and Arab Africa in the north. The racism of the new NATO-installed Libyan regime, currently supporting what amounts to a nation-wide pogrom against the country’s black population, serves to tear down the bridge and push back the prospects for African unity still further’ (p. 71).
The West’s urge for regime change in Syria is the focus of Part 5, entitled ‘Syria – War by Proxy’. The reality is that the Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army are organisations that are highly influenced by the agenda of the West that seeks to weaken the anti-imperialist Syrian state and replace it with a supplicant state.
The role of the Western media in stoking up war is the focus of Part 6 of the book, whilst the final section looks at ‘Resistance at Home’–that is, in Britain where in the summer of 2011 there were ‘riots’ in many British cities, including London. In the article entitled ‘The whites are becoming black’, the right wing bigoted historian David Starkey is challenged by Glazebrook. Starkey expressed his views on British television that ‘the chavs [i.e. English working class]… have become black; the whites have become black.’ Glazebrook prefaced the title of the article with the words ‘How David Starkey is right.’ However, it is essential to point out that ‘rioting’ is not integral to an essentialising of black people. The white working class of Britain learnt how to ‘riot’ long before the 2011 eruptions. The term ‘riot’ is not challenged by Glazebrook and feeds into Starkey’s racist notions of race and the fact that Starkey believes white youths have been polluted by aspects of black culture. Rather, the term ‘uprisings’, which is a less pejorative term than the value-laden term ‘riot’ that suggests irrational behaviour and mob rule, is more appropriate for the youth who had rational reasonings for expressing their rage and discontents with British society, regardless of whether one considers their actions justifiable or not.
Overall, the collection of these articles critique how empire continues to reconfigure itself— to justify, rationalise and maintain its political and military domination via proxy relationships and wars through the media and other mediums. Such strategies need to be exposed and ultimately the ‘imperial strategy’ must be ended by the majority people of the earth and a more egalitarian and just ordering of the planet created.
*Ama Biney (Dr) was the Acting Editor in Chief of Pambazuka News