A conflict is going on. It might be a shooting war or just a fierce rivalry; it might be only important to some of the characters or important to nearly everyone in the setting. However, it turns out that while the subordinates on opposite sides feel very strongly about it, the leadership on either side aren't enemies. They might even be the same person! Normally, you'd expect someone in that position to attempt to defuse the conflict. But they don't, they encourage it, not because of HonorBeforeReason, but because it is to their political advantage to keep the conflict going for the moment.

'''Spoiler Alert:''' Due to the nature of this trope, the mere listing of a work as an example could be a spoiler. While contributors are encouraged to hide spoilers where appropriate, reader beware.

A subtrope of PlayingBothSides. May involve the MoleInCharge or ResistanceAsPlanned. Compare XanatosGambit if the one doing the running benefits regardless of who wins or if anyone wins at all.



[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* In ''Anime/DarkerThanBlack'', nearly everyone works for TheSyndicate, although most of them don't know it. Part of the point of this is to trick Contractors into wiping themselves out, as most of them work for various intelligence agencies in (seeming) opposition.
* In ''Manga/DeathNote'', following [[spoiler:L's death,]] [[VillainProtagonist Light]] [[BigBad Yagami]] takes control of both the Japanese task force and his own EvilPlan to [[TakeOverTheWorld rule the world]]. He intended to let the task force be the losing side. [[spoiler:[[OutGambitted It fails spectacularly.]]]]
* In ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamWing'', Zechs Merquise and Treize Khushrenada assume control of LaResistance and TheFederation respectively and get into a giant, potentially apocalyptic war. While they seem to be bitter enemies, the anime strongly implies (and the manga outright states) that the whole thing is a BatmanGambit [[TheWarToEndAllWars to bring peace by showing humanity just how terrible war really is]].
* In ''Anime/{{Madlax}}'', Enfant had been supplying and coordinating both sides of the Gatz-Sonikan civil war.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In ''ComicBook/{{Nextwave}}'', the 'wavers discover that their anti-terrorist agency H.A.T.E. is actually owned and run by the Beyond© Corporation, the very terrorists they're supposed to be fighting.
* In ''Comicbook/SecretWarriors'', it turned out that ComicBook/{{HYDRA}} secretly owned Comicbook/{{SHIELD}} Then it turned out that ComicBook/NickFury knew this all along, and was using it to manipulate HYDRA.
* In ''ComicBook/{{Sillage}}'', the heroine lands on a planet locked in an eternal war against machines. The inhabitants would have died years ago had it not been for the regular deliveries of food and supplies in large containers, though nobody knows who sends them. As Nävis investigates, she eventually discovers the AI running the robots is also the one responsible for the supply drops, as ages ago it was a military AI (they're sentient in this universe), so bored by peace it basically started running a real-life RTS, giving its opponents food so as to keep the game going.
* In ''ComicBook/TheLeagueOfExtraordinaryGentlemen'', [[Franchise/JamesBond M]] turns out to be [[Literature/SherlockHolmes Moriarty.]] He was recruited by the government in order to help control the criminal underworld. He can't decide if he's a government agent who controls the criminals, a criminal who controls a government agency or both.

[[folder:Films -- Animation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/{{Cars 2}}'', [[spoiler:Sir Miles Axelrod is hosting the World Grand Prix to promote his Allinol ''and'' is the shadowy leader of the Lemons.]] This is all part of a larger effort to discredit alternative fuels and encourage greater reliance on conventional petroleum sources.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* In the 1987 ''Franchise/{{Dragnet}}'' movie, Reverend Whirley is [[spoiler:the head of P.A.G.A.N.]].
* ''Film/TheLeagueOfExtraordinaryGentlemen'': The Phantom, the League's archnemesis, is also [[spoiler:M, the British government representative who recruited the League to stop the Phantom. He was once known as [[SherlockHolmes Professor James Moriarty]]]].
* In ''Film/TheMatrixReloaded'', it is revealed that the Machine intelligence known as The Architect designed the Matrix to periodically spit out a messiah figure to start a small revolt, and Neo is the sixth. The reason? Human free will adds just enough chaos to the system to prevent complete virtual management--but allow one human to restart the war, and the system remains stable. As the Architect puts it, "Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the Matrix." In essence, the war is just another part of the operation of the power plant known as the Matrix.
* In the ''Franchise/StarWars'' prequel trilogy, Palpatine [[YouShouldKnowThisAlready ends up in charge of both]] the Republic as Supreme Chancellor and the Separatists as Darth Sidious. As Chancellor, the conflict is his means of securing total and eternal power and destroying the Jedi Order. As Sidious, he (through his apprentice Count Dooku) provides the external threat used to justify his expansion of government power. Given he ran both sides of the conflict, this effectively means [[XanatosGambit the outcome of the war was completely irrelevant]], as no matter who won he'd rule the galaxy and wipe out the Jedi, the war itself was just a means to an end.
* In ''Film/WagTheDog'', political advisors attempt to create an "artificial war"--and trick the public into thinking it's the real thing.
* In ''Film/PoliceAcademy 6'', the crime boss turns out to be the mayor. As mayor, he knew about the city's light rail plans which would increase property values in the covered areas, while as a crime boss, he could use a crime wave to drop property values so he could buy the land cheap.
* The main plot of ''Film/BatmanReturns'': The Penguin has his gang (to which he appears to have no connection whatsoever in the public's mind) commit random acts of violence throughout Gotham City in order to make the city's current mayor look weak, while simultaneously running for mayor himself and claiming he's the only one who can restore order (and, FromACertainPointOfView, he's telling the truth!). One of his allies even refers to "the Gulf of Tonkin" and "the Reichstag fire", both real-life events that might suggest to naïve viewers that both were [[FalseFlagOperation False Flag Operations]], when in fact they genuinely happened and were only exploited afterward.

* The possibility of this trope is what prevents the ring from going to Gondor (or anywhere else but Mt. Doom) in ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings''--since Sauron alone can control the ring, any faction opposing him and attempting to use the ring would inevitably be corrupted to the point where Sauron himself (as the ring is to some degree a physical extension of his will and personality) would be controlling both the forces of Mordor and the forces opposing Mordor.
* ''Random Factor'' series: a giant space war has been going on for years. Then stuff starts going wrong, and the main character manages to gain access to the sentient AI running his side's war effort... but finds that actually, the two sides are orchestrating the war pretty precisely. Oh, and the people actually fighting and dying are half-size test-tube clones, on half-size space ships. Saves money, that way.
* It's done in ''Literature/AmericanGods''. While Mr. Wednesday rallies the Old Gods, [[spoiler:his partner Loki is leading the New Gods as Mr. World]].
* ''Literature/{{Illuminatus}}'': [[spoiler:Hagbard Celine is the leader of both the Legion of Dynamic Discord and the Illuminati.]]
* In ''Literature/NineteenEightyFour'', the resistance turns out to be run by the central government. Furthermore, the three world governments seem to be encouraging a state of constant warfare among them in order to better control their own populations--it's quite possible and often theorized that they are all really ruled by the same group, although this is never directly spelled out.
* In Creator/MercedesLackey's ''Literature/DragonJousters'' series, it is discovered that both leaders of the warring nations ({{Fantasy Counterpart Culture}}s of Upper and Lower Ancient Egypt) are being manipulated by a corrupt Magician's Guild. The death-energies from the soldiers in battle are harnessed as sacrifices to fuel an immortality/youth spell.
* Tanya Huff's ''Literature/ConfederationOfValor'' series has this as a reveal in the last book: A heretofore unknown shapeshifting alien race started an intergalactic war just to study how the different species would behave, like mice in a labyrinth.
* In ''Literature/{{Discworld}}'', [[TheChessmaster Lord Vetinari]] is not only aware that there are numerous secret societies and conspiracies trying to overthrow him or replace him, but according to ''Discworld/GuardsGuards'', he's even founded a few of them.
* Part of TheReveal in Creator/GKChesterton's novel ''Literature/TheManWhoWasThursday'', used for MindScrew and EveryoneIsJesusInPurgatory purposes.
* In the Literature/DoctorWhoNewAdventures novel ''Toy Soldiers'', there's a war where it turns out that both sides are being run by the same supercomputer, which had set the whole thing up because it had heard somewhere that periods of conflict often produce flowerings of creativity.
* In the ''Literature/{{Fablehaven}}'' series, [[spoiler:it turns out that the Sphinx is both the captain of the Knights of Dawn, dedicated to keeping the demon prison sealed, and the mastermind behind The Society of The Evening Star, who are trying to gain control of the means to open the prison.]]
* ''Literature/EndersGame'' has Peter and Valentine Wiggin. They are genius children using primitive, pre-Internet {{Sock Puppet}}s, Locke and Demosthenes respectively, to manipulate the major political thinkers through phoney debates; Demosthenes a warmongering demogogue, Locke a diplomacy-minded intellectual, and contrary to Peter or Valentine's actual beliefs. It's all an elaborate plan on Peter's part to formally establish himself as a great political mind, with influence and hopefully ''power'', without the handicap of his age.
* ''Literature/HardboiledWonderlandAndTheEndOfTheWorld'' has two opposing factions, the Calcutecs that are paid to guard information, and the Semiotecs that steal and sell it. It's heavily implied that both organizations might be in cahoots, though, as with many things in the book, it's never revealed.
* [[AffablyEvil Milo Minderbender]] of ''Literature/CatchTwentyTwo'' pulls this off quite well in wartime, managing to profit tons of money by battling his own planes against each other and, infamously, [[WarIsHell bombing his own military unit and friends]].

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* In ''Series/KamenRiderWizard'', the BigBad Wiseman and the BigGood White Wizard [[spoiler:turn out to be the same StrangerBehindTheMask. [[LukeIAmYourFather He also happens to be the father of the MysteriousWaif character.]]]]

[[folder:Professional Wrestling]]
* In 1999, Wrestling/{{WW|E}}F featured a long and convoluted storyline about Wrestling/TheUndertaker and his [[PowerStable Ministry Of Darkness]] attempting to seize control of the WWF from [[HeelFaceTurn former bad guy]] Wrestling/VinceMcMahon under the orders of a mysterious figure known only as "The Higher Power". This "Higher Power" turned out to be... Vince [=McMahon=]. The Wrestling/MinistryOfDarkness then merged with Wrestling/TheCorporation to become the Corporate Ministry, and about five months of storyline was [[ShaggyDogStory thrown out the window]].

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Several ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer}}'' Chaos gods are prone to this, especially Tzeentch (the god of magic, messing with fate and GambitRoulette) and Zuvassin (a minor chaos god of spite and failure).
* In ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'', there's not only Tzeentch, but the Eldar, the C'tan Deceiver, and the Inquisition running around trying to keep multiple sides fighting each other. Although in the Eldar's case, it's to redirect an enemy towards another to prevent them from targeting the Eldar.
** Near Tyranid space, a lot of rebellions turn out to be caused by a Genestealer cult manipulating the upper echelons of two or more factions, turning them against each other until the entire planet is consumed by war, making it easy prey for the hive fleet.
* In one of the ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'' supplements, it's revealed that Friend Computer actually founded all the secret societies, just to see what would happen.
** In the latest editions of the corebook, the Computer and the Ultraviolets rank the societies according to how dangerous they are. Those that are less dangerous are usually deeply infiltrated and influenced by, if not outright run by, the Computer and/or Ultraviolets (FCCCP being the prime example); some of them were created by the Computer to guide dissident impulses in these less dangerous directions. Other more extreme ones, like PURGE, are too dangerous for the Computer to control... but almost all have high ranking Ultraviolets at the helm (or close enough to make a grab for the wheel) already.
* ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}'' supplement ''Dragons of the Sixth World''. Ryumyo is in control of both the legitimate government of Hawaii (King Kamehameha IV) and the ALOHA terrorist group opposing it.
* This is somewhat the point of the game ''Imperial''. Players buy stock in different 1900-era European nations and win by accumulating the most money on their investments, not by conquering one another. Sometimes the best move is to take majority control of two counties (meaning you get to take that nation's turn) and have them fight each other.
* In the CardGame ''TabletopGame/RaceForTheGalaxy'', with the "Rebels vs. Imperium" extension it is possible for the same player to control both the Rebel Alliance and vital parts of the Imperium government. And they ''should'', because their sources of victory points overlap: Holding lots of Rebel military worlds.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/AceCombat5TheBelkanWar'': The Belkans are aggravating/running both sides of the war.
* The Administrator in ''VideoGame/TeamFortress2''. To quote from her character entry: "InAWorld where a lot of guys dressed up in red fight a lot of guys dressed up in blue, it's telling that she dresses in purple."
* The recurring CEO/weapon merchant/villain in ''VideoGame/RogueGalaxy'' attempts to do this with the two biggest nations around so that he can continue to profit.
* ''VideoGame/{{Crackdown}}'': TheReveal at the end of the game is that the leader of The Agency, a superpowered law-enforcement agency for which you're an agent, was the reason the city turned into such a den of crime in the first place he'd been supplying the gangs with weapons, transportation and intel for years, turning them from random punks into serious threats. Thus, he got an excuse to declare martial law and unleash the Agents on the city... exactly what the point was, though, is never explained.
* In ''VideoGame/AssassinsCreedI,'' [[spoiler:Robert de Sable is secretly leading both the Crusaders and the Saracens, right under both King Richard's and Saladin's noses.]]
** In the backstory [[spoiler:the Templars were behind both the Allies and the Axis during World War 2. Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, and FDR were ''all'' part of the Order.]]
* In ''VideoGame/{{Headhunter}}'', the head of the criminal organization also turns out to be the one in charge of the Anti-Crime Network.
* It's hard to tell how many sides there are in ''VideoGame/XenoSaga'' due to a GambitPileup of impressive complexity, but [[spoiler:Wilhelm]] is in charge of all but one of them--the party.
** Well, the party and Dmitri Yuriev. [[spoiler:Wilhelm]] has accounted for his actions and doesn't see him as a real threat, but Yuriev isn't actually under his control. Ormus/U-TIC, Vector, Hyams Heavy Industries, and large parts of the Federation, on the other hand...
* [[spoiler:Irving]] of ''VideoGame/WildArms2'' is behind both ARMS and Odessa. The theory was that [[XanatosGambit either the world unites behind ARMS to defeat Odessa and then the true]] BigBad, [[XanatosGambit or else Odessa conquers the world and deals with the problem themselves]].
* In ''VideoGame/TalesOfSymphonia'', both the Desians and the Church of Martel are run by [[spoiler:Mithos Yggdrasil and Cruxis, who want to keep the two worlds Sylvarant and Tethe'alla in a permanent struggle for mana in a misguided effort to prevent another of the {{Magitek}} wars that ended up killing Mithos' dead sister, the Church's namesake.]]
* Admiral Tolwyn in ''VideoGame/WingCommander IV'', indirectly. He claims to favor peace while the Black Lance forces under his command carry out a FalseFlagOperation to incriminate the Border Worlds.
* In ''VideoGame/DeusExInvisibleWar'', it turns out that [[spoiler:the WTO and the Order are both being run by members of the Illuminati. The entire conflict between them is orchestrated by the respective leaders, who are working together]].
** This is foreshadowed by the more light hearted reveal that the archrival Pequod's and Queequeg's coffee chains are owned by the same company.
* ''VideoGame/{{Xenogears}}'' is a ''subversion''. Both sides in the initial Kislev/Aveh war are being orchestrated, through various puppets, by [[spoiler:Krelian]], but it later turns out that this war is a pure sideshow to the actual events of the storyline, where there are multiple top-level factions with their own puppets, along with a couple of genuinely independent groups.
* ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsIIIMorrowind'':
** If you join [[ProudMerchantRace Great]] [[ChronicBackstabbingDisorder House]] [[CorruptCorporateExecutive Hlaalu]], one of their last assignments will be to wrestle control of the [[TheSyndicate Camonna]] [[TheMafia Tong]] from Orvas Dren. If you then complete the ThievesGuild storyline, you become their top dog, as well. Congratulations, you are now running both sides in a decades-long MobWar between two organized crime networks!
** In a case that causes some GameplayAndStorySegregation, you can do this for the [[WizardingSchool Mages Guild]] and [[TheMagocracy Great]] [[MightMakesRight House]] [[KlingonPromotion Telvanni]]. Unfortunately, the game doesn't recognize that you may already be the leader of the opposing faction when giving you a quest that would harm that faction. For example, a House Telvanni quest asks you to get the Mages Guild monopoly on magical training lifted. Likewise, a Mages Guild quest has you root out a Telvanni spy in their midst. If you're in charge of House Telvanni, that spy technically works for ''you''. And because both factions cater to magic-using characters, it is likely that you'll want to join both if playing as a Mage.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* In ''Machinima/RedVsBlue'', both sides report to Vic at Red/Blue Command. [[spoiler:The Red and Blue conflict is really just a fake war to give the [[PrivateMilitaryContractors Freelancers]] [[TestedOnHumans stages for combat trials]].]]
* The alternate reality from [[Website/ThatGuyWithTheGlasses You're A Rotten Dirty Bastard]] has Creator/{{Marvel|Comics}} and Creator/DCComics owned by [[WebVideo/AtopTheFourthWall Linkara]], who wants a faithful adaptation of IronMan vs. Franchise/{{Batman}} III.
* In ''Literature/{{Worm}}'', [[spoiler:Coil eventually accomplishes this; having successfully eliminated every villain in the city not clandestinely in his employ, he then stages a disaster which causes the local civilian government to be decapitated and the head of the [[CapeBusters Parahuman Response Taskforce]] to be discredited. He then replaces the head of the PRT in his civilian identity, putting him in charge of the city's superheroes.]]

* In ''Webcomic/{{Drowtales}}'', it turns out that the mysterious Nidraa'chal leader who lead them against the ruling Sharen family is actually [[spoiler:Snadhya'rune Vel'Sharen, the eldest daughter of the empress, and two of her sisters were in on the plot as well in order to get rid of their mother.]]
* In ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'', [[spoiler:Elan's father's adventuring party]] [[http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0758.html has arranged to rule the better part of a continent by doing this]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/RockyAndBullwinkle'': Boris Badenov did this in "Missouri Mish-Mash."
* The adaptation of ''Series/ThePartridgeFamily'' InSpace: the family gets taken to play a gig on a planet called Texxas (the two X's are deliberate on the part of its supremely stereotyped founder; feels the real Texas is too small for his tastes). When they find the owner will not let them leave, they find some cattle rustlers and try to see if they can get them off the planet. Surprise! In order to make his Texxas even more Texas than Texas, the owner runs all the outlaw gangs as well. In short, the family has to find another way off.

[[folder:Conspiracy Theories]]
* Look at old photos of UsefulNotes/AbrahamLincoln and Jefferson Davis, the two leaders in the UsefulNotes/AmericanCivilWar. It's obviously the same guy. He wears a big fake beard as "Lincoln" and a swoopy wig as "Davis", but the cheekbones and eyes are identical. Then there is the ''[[http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/lincoln_squirrel_2930.jpg squirrel!]]''.
* During the 2016 US Presidential Election, some conspiracy prone commentators wondered if Donald Trump was being deliberately outrageous in his comments to undermine fellow Republican candidates and turn voters on the fence towards Hilary Clinton (Trump having given to the Clintons in previous campaigns being a prime piece of evidence). It died down as the General Election neared and Trump was shown to be as aggressive and outrageous against Clinton as he had been against any Republican contender, though it did get a nod in some of his more political missteps. Ultimately, if this was the play, it WentHorriblyWrong. Though believers in the conspiracy theory ''still'' insist that Trump and Clinton were conspiring together, regardless of all evidence of both political incompatibility and personal animosity between them, with the premise being that a Trump presidency was an acceptable Plan B for them (or whatever shadowy cabal of lizard-men they were working for).

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Due to the way corporate ownership works, one or more shareholders can easily wind up on the boards of two rival corporations. There are laws meant to prevent abuse of these situations, but [[LoopholeAbuse they've got enough exploitable curlicues]] that strange stuff happens nonetheless.
* During the medieval, renaissance, and early-modern periods, Europe was basically run by a few closely interrelated families. The monarch of one warring nation could easily be prominent in the line of succession for the other's throne.
** One example of exactly how closely related opposing sides could be shows up in World War I, where King George V of England and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were first cousins (they had a set of grandparents in common). George was also the first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia through the OTHER set of grandparents. Wilhelm and Nicolas, though, were only ''third'' cousins (though Wilhelm was the first cousin of Nicholas' wife).
** More than one conflict was actually resolved by a "personal union," where the same person simply became the ruler of both states. Most famously in the English-speaking world, Queen Elizabeth I ended the off-and-on war between England and Scotland by giving the English throne to King James VI of Scotland (who afterward was also James I of England). Since James was Elizabeth's cousin and she had no children and no living siblings, nor were there any living heirs to her siblings, he had one of the strongest claims to the English throne even if she ''hadn't'' named him her heir, but doing so removed all doubt. Sometimes a personal union would eventually lead to a permanent merger of the states involved, as was the case when England and Scotland became the Kingdom of Great Britain, but more often the situation was temporary.
** Another famous example: During the Reformation, Charles, soon to be named Holy Roman Emperor, inherited three separate kingdoms (plus additional dukedoms and provinces) from three separate dynasties in rapid succession to possess for a time the world's largest empire. He was Charles I, Charles II, Charles III, Charles IV, or Charles V, depending on which part of his empire he was visiting at the time.
** Yet another example from the Reformation Era. The French Wars of Religion were ended when the Protestant leader, Henry of Navarre, formally converted to Catholicism and became King Henry IV, with the condition that the Protestants were granted various rights and privileges in return (e.g. the right to maintain fortified towns).