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 https://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. 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
 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 January 2020 at https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/books/review/Goldfarb.t.html.