Orchestrating regime change: At what price?

Regime change, rooted in the nation’s psyche, is a constant in US foreign policy regardless of who holds office.


by A G Noorani
The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai

( February 20, 2017, Mumbai, Sri Lanka Guardian) We have been busy in alienating the sympathies of free peoples… the rights of a power, the rights of a nation, ought not to be invaded because it happens to have the misfortune of a despotic government,” William Gladstone said in 1880. The systematic violation of these rights by the US is the cause of the turmoil Europe and West Asia face today.

In 2003, analyst William Pfaff wrote: “Choosing to invade two Islamic states, Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which was responsible for the (9/11) attacks, inflated the crisis, in the eyes of millions of Muslims, into a clash between the United States and Islamic society. The two wars did not destroy Al Qaeda… The United States is no more secure than it was before. The wars opened killing fields in two countries that no one knows how to shut down.” Since then, the US has added Libya and Syria to its list of adventures. The waves of migration that followed have fanned the flames of latent Islamophobia in the West.

This was not an aberration. It is part of the US’ psyche, its belief in “exceptionalism” and “manifest destiny”. Pfaff writes: “The American conception of Manifest Destiny, originally seen as transcontinental expansion, has been recast… as the creation of a world order that is nominally pluralistic but under ultimate American leadership — which, it is taken for granted, would be welcome to nearly all. A programme to bring the world to democracy reflects a large consensus…”

The implications of President Donald Trump’s “America First” battle cry will unfold through his policies, but its grim, ultranationalist undertones have already been revealed through his curbs on immigration.

Regime change, rooted in the nation’s psyche, is a constant in US foreign policy regardless of who holds office. Barack Obama essentially issued a fatwa on Qadhafi in 2011; equally peremptory was his edict on Assad. During a Security Council meeting, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, aptly remarked, “Then you will start telling what king needs to resign and what Prime Minister needs to step down.”

Regime change has an ancient history, becoming en vogue in modern times as the Cold War intensified. In 1953, Operation Ajax saw the CIA overthrow the democratically elected government and reinstall the Shah of Iran. The CIA did the same with the democratically elected, leftist President of Guatemala a year later.

In the 1970s, a US Senate committee investigating intelligence activities published a report entitled Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, which stated that “on balance the likelihood that Presidents knew of the assassination plot is greater than the likelihood that they did not”. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were heavily implicated. Targets included leaders of the Congo, Dominican Republic and South Vietnam. Famously, eight attempts were made on Fidel Castro. In 1958, a CIA-supported coup attempted to topple Indonesia’s President Sukarno. In 1972, Chile’s President Allende killed himself in the wake of a CIA-supported coup.

In 1978, Carter issued an executive order declaring that no official “shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination”. This did not deter Reagan from ordering an aerial attack on Qadhafi’s residence in 1986.

These games continued to be played with enthusiasm in recent years. The US sought to subvert Iran’s government after the Islamic Revolution — attempting to enlist its first President as an informant for $1,000 a month, as was revealed in Asnaad Lanae Jasoosi Amreeke published by Iranian students following the siege on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. Iran survived these and worse attempts — but Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria were wrecked.

In all four cases, diplomacy was spurned in favour of the set goal of regime change. As Zbigniew Brzezinski said, 9/11 was a terrorist attack, not an act of aggression. Felix Kuehn’s book, An Enemy We Created, exposed “the myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda merger in Afghanistan”. Mullah Omar, desperately seeking a way out, needed time.

The US chose to wage war on the Afghan state, with consequences that are there for all to see. The same is true of Iraq; it is now widely accepted that the 2003 invasion has wrought ruin. Libya now has three governments, two Parliaments, three armies and 10 militias. Half of the population has emigrated. In many cases, the US relies on CIA-backed émigrés; calling the shots in Libya is Khalifa Haftar, who the CIA backed in several attempts to assassinate Qadhafi. Syria has only thwarted the US’ plans thanks to Russian support. But at what price?

The countries are a wreck, the plight of their people is miserable. The recent waves of migration have had terrible consequences. The international community must end the practice of regime change.

By arrangement with Dawn

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