What Does Regime Change in Iraq Really Mean?
The buzzwords in Washington concerning Iraq these days are "regime change," which in a sense is surprisingly honest. It means the upcoming Gulf War II will not be about protecting Kuwait or stemming Iraqi aggression. The pretenses have been discarded, and now we’ve simply decided Saddam must go. We seem to have very little idea, however, what a post-Saddam Iraq will look like. We should expect another lesson in nation-building, with American troops remaining in the country indefinitely while billions of our tax dollars attempt to prop up a new government.
With this goal of regime change in mind, the administration recently announced plans to spend nearly $100 million training an Iraqi militia force to help overthrow Hussein. A NATO airbase in southern Hungary will be used for military training. The problem, however, will be choosing individuals from at least five different factions vying for power in Iraq, including the fundamentalist Kurds in the north. Given the religious, ethnic, and social complexities that make up the Middle East, do we really believe that somehow we can choose the "good guys" who deserve to rule Iraq?
Of course any of these groups will be happy to use American military power to remove Hussein, and will form a short-term alliance with the Pentagon accordingly. Their opposition to the current government, however, should not be mistaken for support for America or its policies. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the groups we support in foreign conflicts rarely remain grateful for long.
Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are perfect examples of our onetime "allies" who accepted our help yet failed to do our bidding for long. Both gladly welcomed American money, weapons, and military training during the 1980s. With bin Laden we sought to frustrate the Soviet advance into Afghanistan, and many Pentagon hawks undoubtedly felt vindicated when the Russian army retreated. Yet twenty years later, bin Laden is a rabid American-hating madman whose operatives are armed with our own Stinger missiles. Similarly, we supported the relatively moderate Hussein in the hopes of neutralizing a radically fundamentalist Iran. Yet this military strengthening of Iraq led to its invasion of Kuwait and our subsequent military involvement in the gulf. Today the Hussein regime is belligerently anti-American, and any biological or chemical weapons he possesses were supplied by our own government.
We’ve seen this time and time again. We support a military or political group based on our short-term objectives, only to have them turn against us later. Ultimately, our money, weapons, and interventionist policies never buy us friends for long, and more often we simply arm our future enemies. The politicians responsible for the mess are usually long gone when the trouble starts, and voters with a short attention span don’t connect the foreign policy blunders of twenty years ago with today’s problems. But wouldn’t our long-term interests be better served by not creating the problems in the first place?
The practical consequences of meddling in the domestic politics of foreign nations are clearly disastrous. We should remember, however, that it is also wrong in principle to interfere with the self-determination rights of foreign peoples. Consider how angry Americans become when Europeans or Mexicans merely comment on our elections, or show a decided preference for one candidate. We rightfully feel that our politics are simply none of the world’s business, yet we seem blind to the anger created when we use military force to install governments in places like Iraq. The unspoken question is this: What gives us the right to decide who governs Iraq or any other foreign country? Apparently our own loss of national sovereignty, as we surrender more and more authority to organizations like the UN and WTO, mirrors our lack of respect for the sovereignty of foreign nations.