WATCH: Former UK ambassador to Syria on how imperialism is being redefined as a liberal ideal

Peter Ford, former ambassador to Syria (2003-6) speaking at the “Imperialism on Trial” symposium in Derry, Ireland. He describes the weasel words and manipulative language used to redefine old ideas of imperialism as a liberal ideal. “Defending human rights”, he says, is simply a modern construct of the Victorian meme of the “White Man’s Burden” – the mendacious idea that the countries invaded by the British Empire needed and welcomed the invaders as a civilising and educational force.

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Big B
Big B

Writing a century ago, Lenin exposed the relationship of Finance Capital to imperialism. He wrote that “imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism.” Competition creates a financial oligarchy and an over-accumulation of capital that is exported to seek higher returns abroad (as opposed to funding social development and welfare at home?) Wherever the finance capital went: the military followed (to protect assets) …or, in the case of recalcitrant rulers who refuse to become comprador vassals – the military preceded to ‘humanitarianly’ persuade and neoliberally ‘democratise’. There can be no better single illustration of this than L Paul Bremer III’s infamous ‘Rule 81‘ that threatened to destroy Iraqi ‘cradle of humanity’ agriculture in favour of the monopoly profits of the likes of Bayer, Dow, Syngenta and Monsanto?
Thus, the relationship of capital and imperialism is clear. Neo-Classical (neolib/neocon) economics is codified exploitation and expropriation: imposed and maintained by financial terrorism (via the IMF, World Bank, WTO and when required, UN Sanction) …and back-stopped, if need be, by imperial military violence and invasion. Thus, the US and the UK are the established ‘Hollow Men’ of world finance: the Debt or Death Dealers to a brutalised debt-junkie global economy …the Pax Capitalis?
[…but there is a new, younger, more vigorous rival trying to steal ‘our’ territory in Asia-Pacific, Africa and South America. We don’t need Lenin’s analysis, or the historical rhyme with 1916 to see where that may lead?]
Meanwhile, we live in a hollowed-out ‘Tertiary’ service economy: that (used to) thrive and bribe our complicity off the appropriated resource wealth; enforced materialism and stolen (slave) labour value created by others. There was and is no free trade; there are no free markets; there is no Rules Based International Order – there is only an excess of (debt-fuelled and fictitious) capital, seeking a ‘guaranteed’ return elsewhere. We, the financial oligarchs, make the rules (via the BIS and the TBTF banks): you, the exploited vassals of the world, follow – by imperial order. And prepare to pick up the tab of the socialised risk?
[If you think that I am exaggerating the part of the UK, watch “All the Plenary’s Men” to see what gave lowly arseling George Osborne his financial clout.]
Absent an A-Z-C imperium versus Sino-Russian turf war as the global market gets further sub-divided: as the Long Depression gets longer; and the ’08/09 GFC debt-hangover – along with resource and energy depletion – begin to bite deeper into the nosebleed vertiginous heights of the QE-fueled markets and asset bubbles …imperialism will attempt to ensure the widening wealth gulf between the OECD ‘developed’ Global North and the ‘negative externality’ of the already impoverished and immiserated Global South. A huge surplus ‘reserve army’ of globally redundant, marginalised and migratory unemployed peoples will seek opportunity elsewhere: exponentially increasing wealth-class-ethno-religious and socio-cultural full-spectrum tension and divide; tearing at the social fabric and integrity of nation states …inviting a full blown nationalist fervour, and populist-fueled demagogical backlash …while the supranational already obscenely rich get richer?
Perhaps, in the form of militarised police, to protect their Private Property Rights and criminally expropriated wealth – imperialism is due to come home? Perhaps the thought of the potential rise of Fascism, coupled with the thought of impending societal and ecological collapse will be enough ‘shock therapy’ to bring the Masters of Carbon and of Mankind to enough of a realisation as to where the path of imperial capitalism is leading us? Perhaps?


Perhaps not.


@BigB. I date the decline of Great Britain to 1899 — the Boer War. Imagine how the Mother Country would have prospered if all that investment capital had stayed at home, instead of being used to build up the A-Z-C financial empire in South Africa. Followed by WW1 where British “blood and treasure” was again flushed abroad to build up the A-Z-C financial empire in the ME. The gentle but perceptive Max Beerbohm drew a memorable cartoon series showing John Bull’s increasingly battered and patched progress up till a little after WW1. But it was Mad Maggie Thatcher’s over-inflated Pound and her call to invest in the Asian Tigers which finally did for John Bull and replaced that sturdy old fellow with an effete Company yes-man called UK PLC.

Big B
Big B

@Vexarb: I would put the decline of the UK from when we first went agrarian! Not that Paleolithic man was particularly special: only they were limited by numbers as to the destruction they could cause! [Not that I proscribe in any way to the Bill Gatesian overpopulation psychopathy.] As for imperialism, you must include the East India Company of London …which was bigger than the contemporaneous state, and had its own private Blackwater-style private army to protect its capital investment? That takes us back to 1600?
I would disagree with Peter Ford that the UK is strong militarily. China must be quaking to think of our single frigate on its way to conduct FONOPS? With an aircraftless aircraft carrier to follow. The Russians must be similarly afeared by our 6-800 troops in Estonia? But I would not underestimate the global power of the supranational self-maximising capital flowing through the City of London? It appears the East India Company did not disolve: it evolved into a stateless superstate?

Harry Stotle
Harry Stotle

I have mixed feelings about this.
Its great to hear Peter Ford speaking up but all those in the British and US diplomatic service must be well aware that their job requires them to put an acceptable spin on the beligerent imperialism that has gripped the Middle East, and elsewhere?
The unreasonable behaviour of the US demands that people take sides – so unfortunately you are either with them, which would appear to include most of those working in the diplomatic core, or against them, which in the case of diplomats only becomes apparent after they have retired.
The head of the snake is the most culpable but all oppressive regimes rely on a network of underlings to do their masters bidding.


Wonderful talk. Thank you so much. A breath of fresh air to hear truth spoken amidst the sea of lies we float about on each day in the West.

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum

Lookout Peter.
There may not be any more spare rooms at the Ecuadorean embassy.

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum

Lookout Peter.
There may not be anymore spare rooms at the Ecuadorean embassy.


He paints a very interesting picture mounting a question of should we or should we have not got involved.
It’s a mess now , it was a mess then and if we hadnt have got involved – maybe it would have been someone else’s mess to sort out.
There are so many sides in all this, it’s almost like a rubix cube of political problems – that will never be solved.

James Graham

Come on Angela…that is a defeatist cop-out. Who is abusing their military might? Who is abusing their economic power and control? Who are the imperialists? Who puts profit before people? Who enshrined that in law? Who except the British ruling class, originally? Class politics rules. Which side are you on?


Now if Stella Creasy stepped aside this is the sort of person who would ornament Parliament.


The amazing thing is that people still fall for it ………
“Defending human rights” by bombing their country …… a bit of a disconnect don’t you think?
Tubularsock has always loved the “White Man’s Burden” trope.
It almost makes one feel “Imperialism” is a good thing. And of course it is UNLESS it’s those Russians!


“The White Man’s Burden”… “The White Helmets”. All the same trope tubularsock.
That nice Mr Bomb. Please…give it to us in the name of freedom.


Right on the money, tutisicecream!


Very good that Peter Ford would open up and tell it like it is , I guess he would have been sacked unceremoniously quickly had he done so while still an ambassador for the UK .
Too bad that we don’t have many more of this caliber to open up to the public.

Geneva Washington
Geneva Washington

Thanks. He is a very decent and sincere man who has been an insider and walked away from it. Not easy to do. Kudos to him.