You can relax (for a few
U.S. will not initiate Iraqi-style regime change
in any other country, yet
By Nader Habibi
April 15, 2003
It seems that these days, people and politicians in most Middle
Eastern countries believe that their country is the next target
of U.S. regime-change. Syrians believe that because of their animosity
with Israel they are next. Iranians are convinced that the U.S.
tanks, currently in Baghdad, will soon turn to the right and head
for the Iranian border.
In Pakistan the government of President Mosharraf is worried that
despite close cooperation with the U.S. anti-terror program, it
is next on the list because of its nuclear weapons and powerful
Islamic parties. To reduce the risk of a U.S. invasion and increase
its legitimacy Mr. Mosharraf has reportedly approached the exile
politicians Binazir Buto and Navaz Sharif and invited them to return
to Pakistan. Similarly, newspapers and political analysts in Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and even in the faraway Muslim country of Indonesia
are speculating that their country will be next on American list.
And what is the U.S. administration saying about all of this? Noting
so far other than an announcement by one high-ranking official that
U.S. did not have any plan for attacking Iran or Syria after Iraq.
However, at the same time U.S. issued strong warnings to both countries
about interfering in Iraq, which to the people and governments of
Iran and Syria sounded like saying watch out you might be next.
So the field remains open to speculation as to who might be next.
However, there are reasons to believe that U.S. will not initiate
an Iraqi style regime change in any other Muslim country - at least
not in the next few months or possibly up to November 2004.
The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime took less than a month
but U.S. military will be engaged in Iraq for several months while
an interim government consolidates its hold and establishes order.
It is unlikely that U.S. will launch a regime-change war against
another country during this period. Instead, the Bush administration
is most likely to focus its attention on the new road map for the
Middle East peace.
The U.S. will give priority to this issue for two important reasons.
First, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has proven his loyalty to
President Bush, despite all the political risks at home, has asked
for it. Mr. Bush feels obligated to return Mr. Blair's favor in
supporting the Iraq war by handing him a victory on the Middle East
peace process. Second, the U.S. hopes to improve its image in the
Arab world and further legitimize the Iraq campaign by actively
pushing for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Earlier this year there were some speculations that U.S. will wait
till 2004 elections before getting seriously involved in the Road
Map for Peace initiative. However, recent statements by the National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice indicate that the Bush administration
is ready to demand Israel's compliance with the road map even before
the November elections. She and several other administration officials
have indicated that the time-table and the content of the "road
map" are non-negotiable.
So far the Israeli government has been critical of the "road
map". If this resistance continues it might have an adverse
effect on U.S.-Israeli relations and at some point Israeli voters
might decide to replace Mr. Sharon with a more moderate leader.
So Israel is likely to be the next Middle East country to experience
a "regime" change as a result of U.S. policies in the
region. This time, however, the change will be brought about by
the Israeli voters who realize that saying no to America might not
be in their country's best interest.
Aside from the priority of the Middle East peace process, the Bush
administration might be reluctant to launch a new military campaign
close to the 2004 presidential election. The U.S. economy is already
faced with high budget and balance of payment deficits. The economy
is expected to gradually recover over the next 12 months. A new
military campaign against a Middle Eastern country is costly and
could hurt the U.S. economic recovery. Unless there is a strong
provocation, such as another major terrorist attack against American
targets, the voters might not support another preemptive military
campaign soon after Iraq and hence the Bush administration might
prefer to postpone any additional regime-change initiatives until
after the elections.
Yet a third reason for American reluctance to target another Middle
Eastern country is the international opposition. The global opposition
to a second American preemptive military operation is likely to
be even stronger than the case of Iraq, which had damaged its international
image by invading Kuwait. Furthermore based on recent statements
by British government officials, the United Kingdom is unlikely
to join the United States in any future preemptive military operations
against Iran or Syria.
So, all the countries that believe that they might be next on U.S.
regime-change list can relax - at least for the next few months.
They can use this breathing period to develop a better understanding
of the U.S. foreign policy. If they are still convinced that they
are next, then they should try to figure out what they can do to
get off the list. Alternatively, they could use this interval to
prepare for a potential military confrontation. An important step
that could both, reduce the risk of a U.S. attack and increase the
loyalty of citizens in the event of an attack; is democratic reform.
By adhering to the universally accepted principals of democracy
and respect for human rights a regime can enhance its legitimacy
both at home and abroad.
Nader Habibi works for an economic consulting firm in Philadelphia
as a regional specialist for Persian Gulf. His latest publication
is a social satire novel called Atul's
Quest (Aventine Press, 2003).
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