The Western powers are severely shaken by the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. The region is of massive strategic and economic interest to the US and its allies.
A long term combination of compliant satellite states and military force has been used to defend and uphold US influence.
A thousand strings, from multinational corporations to fake thinktanks, still link Gaddafi’s regime to the Western elite.
The spectre of popular power forcing the US to lose that influence terrifies the ruling class. But they are not sitting idly by and waiting to see what happens.
As the revolutions spread, they have been forced to reluctantly drop favoured tyrants, just before they were overthrown.
Then there was a desperate attempt to appropriate the uprisings—the sudden hypocritical admiration for the right to protest and support for revolutions by the most unlikely of politicians.
But this goes hand in hand with sabre-rattling rhetoric and the real threat of Western military intervention. This week the US has started moving its troops into position to invade Libya.
The contradiction was shown at its most cynical when Tory prime minister David Cameron went for a walkabout in Egypt’s Tahrir Square while selling weapons to prop up dictators across the region.
This is now being played out on a bigger scale. There is a clear prospect of the imposition of military control in some of the region. But there is also intense nervousness inside the ruling class over what course to take.
So, US secretary of defence Robert Gates said last week, “Any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”
There is no lessening of their determination to dominate the region, but the US’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan weigh heavily on the establishment.
What is certain is that the key thing for them is Western dominance. The way to stop them is for the revolutions to spread and deepen—and to oppose any attempt by the West to crush, or hijack, the revolts.