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Empire mercenaries

Outsourced Empire. How Militias, Mercenaries, and Contractors Support US Statecraft
Forfatter: Andrew Thomson
Forlag: Pluto Press (Storbritannia)
Andrew Thomson has written a captivating book about how Western imperialism has changed in the post-World War II era.


In 1953, Iranian leader Muhammad Mosaddeq was deposed by a military coup. In doing so, shah Reza Pahlavi returned to power, instituting an autocratic regime and laying tight on the heels of the United States. Mosaddeq had been democratically elected a few years before, and he had gained immense popularity in the Iranian population. Not least, he had taken steps to nationalize the country's oil industry, which was to strengthen the country's democratic development and ensure that the population got a share of the oil revenues. These fell into the pocket of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later BP, and the British company had appealed to Western governments to step in. For some time, the British intelligence service and the US CIA had been trying to maintain the status quo in the local oil industry, and as Mosaddeq did not allow himself to be knocked out, they chose to sell him in favor of a more lenient Iranian leader.

Documents from the CIA, which have only recently become available for research, show that US politicians perceived Mosaddeq's notions of nationalization as a threat to global oil supply and stable prices. So, while it was primarily British interests at stake in Iran, the Americans saw it as a necessity to step in. Not to support England, but for the sake of transnational capital interests.

Andrew Thomson, a peace scientist at Queen's University Belfast, has written a captivating book about how Western imperialism has changed in the post-World War II era. The major player is the United States, and the American influence on global development has been instrumental in shaping the world as it appears.

American indirect methods

The Iranian coup in 1953 stands as the first of a long series in which the United States has asserted its influence in this new era. Thomson describes how there has been a shift in relation to classical imperialism, which was leading the way up to the interwar period. At that time, a Western power would have knocked things in place in a malevolent nation through direct military intervention, while in the case of Iran, the Americans used indirect methods that were intended to be more discreet but at least as effective. The CIA had a firm grip on the reins, but operated through local Iranian actors and affected the situation from within by sowing dissatisfaction with the Iranian people. In that way, it all came to look like a spontaneous and internal Iranian affair, even though everyone knew full well that it was all orchestrated by the United States.

A captivating book about how Western imperialism has changed in character since the Second World War.

We recognize the pattern of numerous affairs throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The year after the Iran coup, the Americans similarly ousted Guatemalan democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz because his land reform threatened US business interests. It was the United Fruit giant who had complained in exactly the same way as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution, Americans also tried to assemble a private Cuban army to deport him and bring Batista back. In this case, as you know, the strategy failed as the world's attention was directed to the embarrassing affair at the Bay of Pigs.

This covert strategy was chosen because the Cold War set the agenda. The decision makers in Washington were fully aware that sending the army was impossible, as this could bring the situation out of control and escalate into something bigger. By operating behind the scenes, you always had the opportunity to deny everything if things went wrong.

Transnational capitalism

But the explanation also lies in the fact that imperialism itself changed character. During the Cold War, the world no longer consisted of a competitive relationship between different colonial powers, but between two alliances, each of which in particular had an inner cohesion. In that spirit, President John F. Kennedy wrote in his 1962 memorandum that "the United States has a financial interest in ensuring that resources and markets in the less developed world remain accessible to us and the rest of the free world." The Americans pursued their so-called open door policy, which consisted of opening markets around the world to the interests of both American and like-minded nations. You can call it transnational capitalism.

In the service of this case, the United States made extensive use of outsourcing. Local opinion makers, political parties and interest groups were mobilized, as were armed groups and militias of various kinds.

There is a direct link between the sale of Mosaddeq in 1953 and how the United States today wages deputy wars around the world.

But the interesting thing about the development that Thomson describes is that this system did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Then the need for these methods should have immediately disappeared, one would think. But the working methods were hanging and, on the contrary, they became increasingly clear.

As early as 1990, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney predicted in his annual report to Congress that "low-intensity conflicts will remain, as has been the case since 1945, the most likely form of violent threat to American interests." Seen in this view, the need to protect themselves from such disruptions had certainly not diminished. The United States now saw itself as a guarantee of a favorable investment climate in the global South, and that meant that US foreign policy in those parts of the world remained more or less intact. As President Bush emphasized in 1991, the main enemy was no longer an expanding communism, but a lack of stability.

In other words, there is a direct link between the deposition of Mosaddeq in 1953 and how the United States today wages deputy wars around the world. We see it in both Iraq and Syria, and the main aim pursued by the author is not so much territorial possession as it is the said stability and ultimately global capital interests.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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