Regime Change. Part One – How It’s Done.

We are all so used to regime change happening far away, in the Middle East, in Africa or South America, that we have been tempted to imagine it couldn’t happen here. But it could.

By David Malone and cross-posted from his blog, Golem XIV

There’s been a lot of Regime Change around in the last few years. One might even think it had become a nasty habit: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela. These are just the most recent. It was pointed out recently that if you count just those in South and Central America since the 50’s, it’s twelve. Add in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and it seems like we can’t get enough of it. We certainly seem to think we have a right to engineer it wherever we like. But of course those who support it always insist we only do it because it ‘our duty to help the oppressed.’  So I would like to look at this peculiar form of Western benevolence.  First in general and then at a hypothetical case – Regime Change in the UK.

This may seem unlikely but I think we are all so used to regime change happening far away, in the Middle East, in Africa or South America, that we have been tempted to imagine it couldn’t happen here. But I suggest it could. In fact I think if Brexit were to happen and it was followed by the election of Corbyn government intent on some quite radical changes, then we could well see regime change being played out in the UK. But before I can persuade you of that we need to be clear what regime change involves and how it’s done.

Regime Change – How to Do It.

Regime Change is like asymmetric warfare but where ‘we’ in the West win! It’s fun for the whole family of three-letter agencies, secret services, special forces, private security companies and soft-power-projecting quangos and ‘endowments’.

In the past we used to have ‘ police actions’ (where you bomb the shit out of ‘them’ but don’t actually declare war), proxy wars (so messy – so difficult finding reliable help these days),  or if you’re Israel you just call it ‘a limited incursion’ and hope to be home for tea. Regime change, as a concept at least, is better and cleaner all round. No one asks ‘is it a war or isn’t it?’, because it’s Regime Change! It’s defined by the outcome rather than the means and isn’t it just so much more modern to talk about ‘outcomes’?

It avoids all that ‘is it done yet?” uncertainty. It’s done when the regime has changed.  What could be clearer?  It isn’t even ‘mission critical’ what sort of mess is left behind. The regime has been changed  – ‘job done’, ‘mission accomplished’ Everyone knew what the aim was from the start, without having to have given all sorts of hideous hostages to fortune about what kind of regime the new one might be or even if it would be better than the old one. No one says anything of that sort, it’s just about hanging the regime – sorry – missed out a ‘c’ there – changing the regime… changing.

So let’s do a quick run down of what Regime Change typically involves.  This, by the way is from the Grand Daddy of Regime Change specialists’ play-book, the NED, the National Endowment for Democracy.

So, first find your regime. One you don’t like  – obviously. It’s important there be something, preferably several things about the regime that you can point to that are genuinely nasty or at least not as good as they should be and not like they are at home. This is important.  You have to be able to frame your actions as morally justified and that what you are aiming at is ‘better’.  Especially if the regime you want changed happens to be sitting on valuable resources, have markets they weren’t letting your corporations in to, or were just generally ideologically ‘dangerous and wrong’.  Having actual ‘bad stuff’ to point at is vital for keeping the whole story feeling and looking positive.

Remember much of the critical action in regime change happens at home not ‘over there’. You have to have widespread and vocal support at home. If you don’t have it home-grown opposition will drag you down into a tedious and very often dangerous discussion of facts

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