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July 13, 2005

Wheel of Regime Change

Reading recent Matt Yglesias posts on Tapped, I wonder if there's a Wheel of Regime Change located in the basement of some right-wing think tank.  The game is to spin it and write an article about how we should invade the country whose name comes up.  (Occasionally a writer spins it too many times, and has to write about all the countries.)  While this may be fun, it is not the way to generate good advice on foreign policy. 

Apparently, some basic points about the way invasions go are being widely missed.  When you invade a country and remove the head bad guy, that doesn't mean you win.  You just create a power vacuum which every other random thuglord in the country wants to fill.  Al-Qaeda's influence rises, as they generally aren't looked on well by stable governments anywhere, and they grow unchecked in times of chaos.  You also have to tangle with nationalistic/religious types who are suspicious of your motives and don't like being invaded.  (Robert Pape, who knows more about suicide bombers than anybody, points out that these religious nationalists are the primary cause of suicide terrorism.)  Lots of the guys playing for power will be just as bad as whoever you overthrew, if not worse.  They will want to blow things up and shoot people -- sometimes you, sometimes civilians.  In the process, there will be local outbreaks of anarchy.  More civilians will die. 

Probably the idea is to forcibly conquer all the armed groups and install a genuinely good leader.  However, this isn't easy.  It's hard to make sure that everybody will listen to the good leader you've found, even after you're gone.  It takes a long time to develop national institutions that people have confidence in, and you probably don't want to stick around for a long time.  Then there's the fact that genuinely good leaders are hard to come by.  Sometimes a guy will look like a good leader, but he's actually a wanton liar who could be spying for the Iranians

For another thing, suppressing lots of violent thugs requires a lot of soldiers.  We probably don't have enough.  There's a very good reason why the Army is having such big recruiting difficulties -- nobody wants to be sent off to fight murderous thugs in the desert.  During the Clinton years, it was reasonable to think that you could get the rewards of military participation (money for college, etc.) with a fairly low chance of seeing actual combat.  This is no longer the case. 

--Neil the Ethical Werewolf

July 13, 2005 in Foreign Policy | Permalink

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Comments

I'm pretty sure Yglesias is misreading Ledeen (understandably -- the dude isn't ever clear at all), who doesn't actually want to invade Iran. As far as I know, Ledeen wasn't even in favor of marching on Baghdad. I think he plumped for some bizarre plan wherein the U.S. would give support to the Shiites and Kurds, establish "safe zones" in the north and south, and let *them* give Saddam the ol' pitchfork somehow.

Likewise, what Ledeen wants for Iran, as far as I can tell, is extensive U.S. support for Iranian people to rise up and overthrow the Khamenei regime. It's all a bit murky, which is why most of his articles end by saying "Enough already. Do it now." without saying exactly what "it" entails. Still, even supporting a forcible revolution in Tehran, which seems unlikely to me, would lead to some of the problems you mention. Although most evidence indicates that Qods force is very soft on al-Qaeda, and may even be actively assisting them, no matter what the Tehran regime's "official" policy is.

And to bring this full circle, I think Ledeen was a Chalabi supporter to boot.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Jul 13, 2005 7:52:54 PM

"Probably the idea is to forcibly conquer all the armed groups and install a genuinely good leader."

If by "good leader" you mean "leader sympathetic to US interests" then I agree that this might be the idea. This is why our method of "spreading democracy" is ultimately going to leave us in pissed off - 'cause those nations that we "liberate" are going to elect governments we don't like someday. The way democratic politics work, its pretty much inevitable.


Posted by: NonyNony | Jul 13, 2005 7:55:42 PM

When you invade a country and remove the head bad guy, that doesn't mean you win.

It's when you win the mid-term congressional elections -- or even better, the quadrennial big enchilada -- that means you win.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jul 13, 2005 10:01:41 PM

I thought that as soon as you remove the head bad guy, all the people come out in the streets and give you flowers and chocolate and shit. And then they put up a statue of your leader where the statue of the head bad guy used to be. Aren't international relations founded primarily on the principle of gratitude toward nations that once did yours a good turn by invading and fixing up your political system for you?

Posted by: DaveL | Jul 13, 2005 10:23:07 PM

"good leader" vs. "sell out his own people and let us steal all the oil"

Kind of a bummer, they tend to be mutually exclusive.

Posted by: firedoglake | Jul 14, 2005 12:30:34 AM

"good leader" vs. "sell out his own people and let us steal all the oil"

I was just wondering where all that stolen oil is that you guys ranted about. Ya' know the "war for oil" oil. We could use it about now since the oil prices have hit record highs. Anyone seen the oil we stole? Know where it's stored?

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jul 14, 2005 9:38:33 AM

Would the regime in Syria be a target for the right-wing tanks? Because publically, the Bush line is diplomacy on that front. So I'm not sure Bush is in line with the think tanks.

Of course e-rawk is in the middle of all these countries, so who knows.

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 14, 2005 12:34:11 PM

I was just wondering where all that stolen oil is that you guys ranted about. Ya' know the "war for oil" oil. We could use it about now since the oil prices have hit record highs.
Gee, I dunno. Maybe you could ask Paul Wolfowitz, who said two weeks before the war, "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." Or maybe try Donald Rumsfeld, who told Congress in March 2003 that "taxpayers will get help from oil revenue", and there were even administration predictions that the reconstruction effort would cost US taxpayers as little as a couple a billion bucks. Two years later, we are still waiting for those oil dollars while the privatized reconstruction effort feeds off of our government teat. I'd like an answer too, where the heck is all of that oil money?

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