Regime Change Blowback

Henry C.K. Liu

This article appeared in AToL on November 11, 2006

The US mid-term elections of 2006 were a classic example of political "blowback", a term the Central Intelligence Agency invented for internal analysis. It refers to the unintended consequences of covert operations. The public is generally unaware that the headlines of violence by terrorist groups or drug lords or rogue states are blowbacks from previous US policies.

"Blowback" first appeared in a March 1954 report, since declassified, relating to the 1953 covert operation to subject the nationalist government of democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran to regime change. By installing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as shah to replace Mossadegh, the US condemned the Iranian people to a quarter-century of tyranny and repression that eventually strengthened extremist Islamic fundamentalism and gave birth to theocratic revolution led by ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

The misguided US policy elicited a tidal wave of anti-US sentiments across the Islamic world that set the stage for the Iranian student occupation of the US Embassy. The crisis destroyed president Jimmy Carter's chance for a second term and turned US domestic politics sharply to the extreme right, along a belligerent path that eventually led to a blowback in the form of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In reaction, the US adopted a foreign policy of "regime change", with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as opening salvos in President George W Bush's "war on terrorism".

The disastrous war to force a regime change in Iraq in turn produced a regime change in Washington on the second Tuesday of November in 2006.

On April 5, 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, I wrote in The war that may end the age of superpower in Asia Times Online:
This war highlights once again that military power is but a tool for achieving political objectives. The pretense of this war was to disarm Iraq of weapons of massive destruction (WMD), although recent emphasis has shifted to "liberating" the Iraqi people from an alleged oppressive regime. At the end of the war, the US still needs to produce indisputable evidence of Iraqi WMD to justify a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Overwhelming force is counterproductive when applied against popular resistance because it inevitably increases the very resolve of popular resistance it aims to awe into submission.

Only when a nation is already occupied by a foreign power can the theme of liberation by another foreign power be regarded with credibility. A foreign power liberating a nation from its nationalist government is a very hard sell. The US manipulates its reason for invading Iraq like a magician pulling colored scarves out of a breast pocket. First it was self-defense against terrorism, then it was to disarm Iraq of WMD, now it invades to liberate the Iraqi people form their demonic leader. Soon it will be to bring prosperity to the Iraqi people by taking control of their oil, or to save them from their tragic fate of belonging to a malignant civilization.

There is no point in winning the war to lose the peace. Military power cannot be used without political constraint, which limits its indiscriminate application. The objective of war is not merely to kill, but to impose political control by force. Therein lies the weakest part of the US war plan to date. The plan lacks a focus of what political control it aims to establish. The US has not informed the world of its end game regarding Iraq, beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein. The idea of a US occupational governor was and is a laughable non-starter.

Guerrilla resistance will not end even after the Iraqi government is toppled and its army destroyed. Drawing upon British experiences in Malaysia and Rhodesia, the force ratio of army forces to guerrilla forces needed for merely containing guerrilla resistance, let alone defeating a guerrilla force, is about 20:1. US estimates of the size of Iraq's guerrilla force stand at 100,000 for the time being. This means the US would need a force of 2 million to contain the situation even if it already controls the country.
In my article in ATol on October 23, 2003, The war that could destroy both armies, I wrote:
A reader wrote on April 7: "If you want Asia Times Online to be taken seriously, you might want to consider not using any more items from Henry C K Liu ... Suggestion: Reread his article six months from now as a test of his ability to prognosticate."

Six months have passed and I repeat: This war may end the age of superpower.
On April 20, 2004, I wrote in the article Occupation highlights superpower limits:
With the fall of Saddam and the marginalization of the Ba'ath Party in Iraqi politics, the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region and indeed the whole Middle East is fundamentally altered. A rise of Iraq's Shi'ites will be felt by the entire Middle East - particularly states with their own sizable Shi'ite populations - and Iraq's immediate neighbors, which include Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Iranian theocratic influence is now dominant in the Iraqi political milieu through the venue of democracy.

In the long perspective that governs national diplomatic priorities, the role of the US in the region remains transient, while the rise of Iranian theo-politics is a very serious long-term development for many countries in the region and the world, particularly the Sunni countries.

Iran's 1979 theocratic revolution was not only a shock to the West, but to the entire Middle East and the Islamic nations of Asia. The US will go to any lengths to prevent the Iranian theocratic model from sweeping the region. The Ba'ath Party of Iraq, the history of which predates Saddam's rise to power, until its ill-advised marginalization by the US invasion authorities, had been the main bulwark against the Iranian model of Shi'ism in Iraq.

By the regime change carried out with the invasion of Iraq, the US has demolished that bulwark for no discernible geopolitical purpose. Sunnis in the region are now torn between their fear of a rise of the Shi'ites in Iraq and their commitment to Arab nationalism stimulated by foreign occupation. Neither option has any room for US superpower dominance. The abuse of superpower, and indeed the foolish squandering of superpower resources, appears to have rendered the world's sole superpower powerless to shape a new world order of peace, harmony and justice, diluting the sole justification for superpower existence.
This is a strategic problem that cannot be corrected by the mere change of one cabinet member, or even the change of partisan control of one branch of government. There is a moral crisis in the US polity. What is needed is a complete re-examination of US foreign policy to revive a bipartisanship that recognizes the simple truth that terrorism cannot be fought with state terror.

The US has the capacity to be a world leader of peace, but to fulfill that noble mission it must adopt a foreign policy of tolerance, respect and fairness toward other nations. Win the love of the world with justice and the inferno of terrorism will be extinguished.