Post-Cold War imperialism
The certainties of the Cold War era gave way after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the complexities of our present world. These complexities have been exacerbated by the blatant attempts by the US-led western powers to reshape the geopolitical map of the world in their favour. Amidst talk in the 1990s of the emergence of a unipolar world dominated by the US with its western allies in tow, the simplistic notion fashionable in western capitals that the world lay supine beneath their feet (a ‘new world order’) and no other power could possibly challenge the drive for global hegemony by the west has proved to be an illusion.
Nothing encapsulates these illusions and the reality of resistance to these hegemonic designs better than the western attempts to redraw the geopolitical map of the long simmering cauldron called the Middle East. Starting with Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein was first inveigled into an eight-year war against Iran, later deceived into thinking the west would turn a blind eye to his invasion of Kuwait, through the regime change in Libya to the proxy intervention in Syria, the US-led west has weighed in to remove the three regimes that were the last anti-Israel countries in the Arab world (the rest had either signed peace treaties with Israel or given up the ghost of even lip service to resistance to the expansionist Zionist state, abandoning in the process the Palestinian people to their tragic fate). The defeat of Saddam in Kuwait laid the foundations for the 2003 invasion on the fraudulent charge of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and his eventual overthrow and hanging. The successor regime in Baghdad can be considered a western satrap.
The ‘success’ in Iraq (which destroyed one of the most advanced and developed countries of the Arab world) emboldened our latter-day imperialists to take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, using the pretext of a UN Security Council Right to Protect resolution. Russia and China went along, not realising the trap the west had set to camouflage their intervention in Libya as protection of the Libyan people (i.e. those opposed to Gaddafi). Based on that sobering experience, both Russia and China refused to be deceived over the proxy intervention in Syria.
Russia in particular drew a line in the sand of the Syrian desert. This was in the wake of Russia’s experience since 1991 of a west engaged in NATO creep in Eastern Europe and the former territories of the Soviet Union in that region and attempts to subvert and replace pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia and Ukraine. In both these latter cases, Moscow’s resistance to these designs has produced a de facto partition between pro- and anti-Moscow zones/regimes. This NATO creep and attempts to ‘recruit’ countries to the western alliance in the ‘near abroad’ was in direct contradiction to the false assurances of US President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he asked the latter to tear down the Berlin Wall (this happened in 1989 and proved the beginning of the break up of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states, the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the emergence of the so-called new world order).
Russia’s last remaining steadfast ally in the Middle East, Syria, is still technically at war with Israel, particularly given that Israel has blatantly in violation of international law (for which Tel Aviv has hardly ever given a fig) annexed the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The last remaining anti-Israel redoubt in the Arab world was sought to be subjected to regime change through proxy fundamentalist and terrorist organisations, including ironically the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front. The entry of Islamic State (IS) in the Iraq-Syria theatre complicated the conflict in Syria into a many-sided war. On the one side were Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, on the other the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The third corner in this triangular conflict was IS.
A strange situation emerged as the Syrian conflict played out over the last eight years. Ostensibly the US and the west were supporting their proxies in the SDF against both the Damascus regime as well as IS. The Syrian Kurds became late allies of the US as they gained fighting capacity and territory. Ostensibly, the US mission was to defeat IS and then withdraw its 2,000 troops in the country, a goal US President Donald Trump reiterated just days before he, in collaboration with Britain and France, launched missile strikes on Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.
The SDF has by now virtually collapsed as a fighting force despite millions of dollars and weapons supplied by the US and the west. The Assad regime and its allies are on the verge of victory. The alleged chemical attack has failed to establish its credibility and been lambasted by many sources as a false flag operation to justify the strikes. What Washington, London and Paris hope to gain by such blatant aggression and violation of international law (no self-defence plea or UN Security Council approval available) seems unclear to even themselves at this juncture. The strikes were carefully limited and calibrated to avoid Russian targets in Syria after Moscow warned of retaliation if any of its personnel or installations came under threat. The strikes have had little or no tactical or strategic impact. Assad and his allies seem set on the path of victory, a big blow to the west and its regional satraps such as Saudi Arabia.
Does the defeat of the western backed proxy war for regime change in Syria signal a new turn in regional and global politics? It would appear so. Russia has been under ‘attack’ since President Vladimir Putin succeeded in turning round the fortunes of his country. Russia is now poised to reassert itself on the world stage, defend its friends and allies abroad, and protect its interests in its near abroad. Along with the rise of China as a capitalist powerhouse, the west’s hegemony plans appear, if not in disarray, at least facing a very different scenario from what was sketched in the 1990s.
Imperialism is not just a strategic or geopolitical desire of the developed countries. It is the logical outcome of the dynamic of capitalist development which, not content with the limitations of domestic markets, is impelled by the logic of capitalist development to seek new markets, sources of raw materials and, increasingly since the spread of the capitalist order in the 21st century (globalisation), location of industry and trade in the developing world. In the wake of this historically observed compulsion of the capitalist system comes war, conquest and regime change to the benefit of the developed capitalist countries.
It is ominous and salutary therefore to reflect on the fact that historically capitalism may have given birth to colonialism and imperialism with their concomitant exploitation, cruelties and repression, but even when it seemingly had triumphed after the Cold War ended, the capitalist system, because of its inherent internal dynamic, remains the single greatest and most dangerous source of war and conflict in the world. It is therefore incumbent on the peoples of both the developing and developed world to combat this source of grief and usher in a system that speaks for and to the needs and aspirations of the 99 percent, not the fat cat one percent that rules the global roost today.