Friends, allies and enemies

How the West has abandoned old friends and embraced one-time enemies since the end of the Cold War.

James Heartfield

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Topics Politics

The Northern Alliance’s entry into Kabul represents a 180-degree turnaround in the internecine conflicts in Afghanistan.

Many in the defeated Taliban are drawn from the militias recruited by the USA to fight against the Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s. The Northern Alliance itself is the rump of the Mujahideen, though some of its leaders, like General Dostum, were on the defeated Soviet side. But this time it is they who are backed by the US and European superpowers.

Throughout the Cold War, the USA trained, armed and commanded locally recruited militias and sponsored authoritarian regimes across the world, as a way of suppressing popular liberation movements. But with the decline in radical opposition since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, such police states and local militias proved surplus to Western requirements. Now, it is increasingly the remnants of these Cold War proxy armies that have become the targets of Western militarism.

Many of today’s demonised third world leaders were previously supported by the West – like General Manuel Noriega in Panama and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was one of thousands of Gulf Arabs recruited to fight in CIA-trained Mujahideen militias against the Russians in Afghanistan.

Present-day Western allies are more likely to be found among the defeated leftovers of the once-radical national liberation movements. Guatemalan communist Rigoberta Menchu, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, Haitian leftist Jean-Bertrand Aristide have all been recruited to front Western-brokered diplomatic agreements.

Among a younger generation of Western leaders, many of whom have their own left-wing pasts – like German foreign minister Joseph Fischer and French premier Lionel Jospin – there are few hang-ups about relating to these one-time enemies of the West, who were probably more like boyhood heroes.

There is a superficial appearance of a swing to the left in US foreign policy, as issues like women’s rights and humanitarian aid move higher up the agenda. Critics of Western militarism are uncomfortable about being seen to support out-and-out reactionaries like bin Laden. But US foreign policy before the Russian revolution was oriented by a support for the left against the right internationally (see Gabriel Kolko, Main Currents in American History, 1976) – which never prevented it from imposing its own interests on the world in the name of progress.

The West betrays its Cold War allies

  • February 1986

    Rigged elections in the Philippines fail to save President Marcos from ‘People’s Power’.

  • 7 February 1986

    Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier leaves Haiti.

  • 20 December 1989

    US troops invade Panama to depose General Noriega.

  • May 1990

    UN Security resolution condemns Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

  • 4 December 1990

    General Ershad forced to resign in Bangladesh.

  • 17 March 1992

    Whites-only referendum grants one-person one vote in South Africa.

  • November 1993

    President Zia ul-Haq persuaded to stand down.

  • February 1995

    The Taliban, former anti-Soviet militia, takes Kabul, provoking Western condemnation.

  • November 1995

    Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu takes power, provoking open hostility with the USA.

  • 15 November 1996

    UN resolution authorises intervention in Zaire (Mobutu flees 15 May 1997).

  • March 1998

    General Pinochet persuaded to relinquish command of the Chilean military, before being arrested for war crimes in Britain in 1999.

  • 1999

    President Suharto of Indonesia forced out of office, while the United Nations sponsors separatist revolts in East Timor and Irian Jaya.

  • May 2000

    South Lebanese Army disintegrates following imposition of a deadline for Israeli withdrawal.


  • September 2000

    British troops redeployed in Northern Ireland to quell loyalist militias.
  • James Heartfield is the author of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, Perpetuity Press, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)); and Great Expectations: The Creative Industries in the New Economy, Design Agenda, 2000 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)). He is also coauthor of Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website

    Read on:

    Our boys in Kabul, by Josie Appleton

    spiked-issue: After 11 September

    Read more:

    Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who declared War on America, 2001

    Bruce Jentleson, With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush and Saddam, 1982-1990, 1994

    Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, 1999

    Gabriel Kolko, Main Currents in American History, 1976

    ‘With Friends Like Us…’ Andrew Roberts, Spectator, 27 October 2001

    To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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    Topics Politics

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