8.7.5 Regime Change as a Political Objective

(This is a republished page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 2 book.  The original archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/875.htm)

A “unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors” seemed to be a logical first step towards achieving the neoconservative vision of democracy in the Middle East (8.4.5), but it was dangerous utopianism:

  • No matter how lofty the idealism behind the mission to spread democracy, there is no political legitimacy in imposing a regime change from outside the country – especially from the perspective of the Iraqis themselves (8.6.4) and the rest of the world (8.2.3).
  • The danger of upsetting an established order was underestimated (6.2.5), and there was naivety in the approach to rebuilding Iraq’s governance.[1] It would have been more appropriate to ask how to minimise the number and scale of changes to existing institutions.
  • The attempt to introduce Western liberal democracy was doomed to failure. Identity politics is the unavoidable outcome in the absence of established political parties – and Iraq’s tribalism was ignored (8.6.3).

The problem with the Iraqi regime was not that it was authoritarian per se (6.3.8), but that its leader had a record of security violations and was committing crimes against humanity.  Changes were needed, but the attempt at revolution was dangerous.  A negotiated solution would be more stable than one which was imposed by force (7.4.5).

Any attempt to change Iraq would be made more complicated by its neighbours:

  • Iran might have wanted Saddam to be overthrown, but it was anti-American and would not want a nearby secular democracy (8.3.1).
  • Syria had an interest in resisting democracy and in supporting the Sunni Muslims (8.3.2).
  • There are many ethnic groups in the region, all of which spread over more than one country and many of which have a history of violent conflict between them. It was (and is, at the time of writing) impossible to predict what pattern of power relationships would emerge as the result of igniting a war.

Sudden substantial change was highly risky for the region as a whole.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, described the people who were recruited to rebuild Iraq’s governance and the assumptions they made.  The book won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2007 and a description of it was available in April 2014 at http://www.thesamueljohnsonprize.co.uk/node/47.