We rely on your contributions. Tax-deductible donation via PayPal or credit card: click Donate button, top right corner of this page: http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/. By check: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Floor, NY, NY 10003.
By Barry Rubin
If direct military efforts are involved than all of the above must be absolutely clear, with no room for wishful thinking or only examining "best-case" outcomes.
At the same time, regime change should never be either a policy "short-cut" nor part of any broader doctrine. I said at the time and maintain today, the so-called "neo-conservative" option--that by overthrowing dictators and proving U.S. policy backed democracy the masses would rally to love America--was thoroughly wrong and based on basic misunderstandings of the Middle East. The overwhelming majority of Israeli analysts--and the words "overwhelming majority" is an understatement--felt skeptical all along.
Indeed, once regime change has been accomplished, the clock should start ticking toward withdrawing U.S. troops. Naturally, Washington cannot abandon those who have stepped forward at its invitation to take over. Yet usually such new governments can survive with aid plus training. Even in Vietnam, it was not the withdrawal of U.S. troops but of U.S. aid that doomed the Saigon government.
If President George W. Bush had pulled out most U.S. troops in 2008, the United States would be better off today, not only in terms of Iraq and casualties but also regarding the domestic political situation. And if U.S. forces stay in Afghanistan for another decade, by the end they would have achieved little or nothing more than could have been gained by forcing and helping the Afghan government to preserve itself.
Whether the Iraqi intervention was a success or not is a much wider topic I'm not going to enter into now but have dealt with at length elsewhere. Whichever way one judges, however, it should be recognized that there are legitimate arguments on both sides.
Let's give the last word to one of Gladstone's successors, Margaret Thatcher, who in her autobiography explains:
"International relations is a matter of second-best-alternatives rather than the ideal. Even if it had been within my power to replace one ruler with another...I would rarely have been able to replace a bad one with a better, and often it would have been worse. Those, for instance, who rejoiced in the fall of the Shah must reconcile themselves today to the sad truth that the regime of the Mullahs is more oppressive to its own citizens, and abroad promotes terrorism and subversion, where the Shah was a pillar of stability, if in the end a shaky one."
Actually, the main priorities regarding regime change is to battle against regime change, that is to oppose the overthrow of more moderate regime's and their replacement by radical, anti-American ones. The most recent such failure was when the United States stood by and watched the subversion of a moderate Lebanese regime and the country's transformation into an Iran-Syria puppet with Hizballah largely controlling the country. Foolish flirtation with Islamist groups may extend this kind of defeat to other countries.
PS: If you are interested in further reading, you can take a look at my essay on how the 1953 regime change in Iran looks today: “Regime Change and
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.