Monday, September 18, 2023

"Is There Still a Role for Regime Change?"

As long as the the wind shall blow, the grasses grow and the waters flow. (and the CIA has a budget)

From Discourse Magazine, September 15:

Scholars warn efforts to spur regime change rarely pan out, but in a flawed international community, regime change may still have a place

Fifty years ago this week, a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Although the U.S. government didn’t back the coup, it often used covert methods to limit the influence of Soviet-backed regimes in the region and install leaders who would be more favorable toward the U.S.

This milestone reminds us how often the U.S. has sponsored “foreign-imposed regime change” (FIRC) over the years. Although not as common today as during the Cold War—during which time scholar Lindsey O’Rourke counts the U.S. launching 64 FIRC operations—the sponsorship of regime change, either by political pressure, economic sanctions, covert action or overt force, remains a potent U.S. foreign policy tool. O’Rourke adds that every president in the post-Cold War era has pursued regime-change policies.

Foreign policy scholars often look askance at such activities, claiming they are ineffective, if not morally disagreeable. But despite the evidence, U.S. policymakers will always seek ways to positively shape the international environment for the country’s national security objectives. Given this reality, we should consider when better principles on FIRC might be necessary.

Chile Revisited
During the Cold War, both the CIA and the KGB used covert aid to intervene in many democratic elections around the world. Accordingly, the U.S. covertly tried to prevent Allende from winning the election in Chile in 1970. Allende was the first Marxist ever to come to power via the ballot box, and after he took office, the U.S. government authorized the CIA to plot against his government. But the CIA’s support for a coup attempt ceased after Chile’s army commander-in-chief was murdered by Chilean military officers. In his memoir “The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende,” U.S. Ambassador Nathaniel Davis insisted the U.S. embassy was not involved in coup plotting, and that the U.S.’s covert actions merely amounted to $2 million per year. CIA operations officer Jack Devine, a critic of some of these covert plans, says in his book “Good Hunting” that the CIA’s effort focused helping Chilean opposition parties and newspapers survive the Allende government’s pressure.

The U.S. was not alone in supporting regime-change efforts in Chile. As Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin relate in “The World Was Going Our Way,” the KGB helped Allende win and propped up his government. By 1972, the KGB became discouraged by Allende’s economic mismanagement. Opposition from civil society was mounting. When the military coup came in September 1973, it was no surprise to anyone, including Allende.

The U.S.’s foreign policy priorities changed over time—and its strategic approach to regime change did as well. In the late 1990s, a similar Marxism-through-the-ballot-box strategy would be employed successfully by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But the Cold War was over, and now, Washington backed democratic process over ideological struggle. In 2002, a coup attempt by Chavez’s military opponents received no U.S. support, and Chavez consolidated his hold on power. Again, focusing on democratic principles, the U.S.’s failure to provide covert aid to our ally Ayad Allawi’s coalition in the 2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections allowed Iran-backed parties to win. Some of our former Cold War interventionist spirit might have blocked Tehran’s subsequent domination of Iraq’s politics.

Driver of World History
Foreign-imposed regime change has been a key feature of the interaction between states from the beginning of recorded history. Even in the post-Westphalian order, with its foundation resting on the sovereignty of states and international rules, regime change hasn’t disappeared as a foreign policy objective, even for democracies. The scholar John M. Owen notes how common FIRC is in international history, recording more than 200 cases between 1510 and 2010, with ideological contests between great powers as a key driver of many of these examples....