Monday, October 03, 2005

US push for regime change in the Middle East and lack of alternatives

Kash kheirkhah

Two years ago, President Bush's foreign policy team unleashed its Greater Middle Eastern Initiative (GMI), in the hope of promoting democracy and good governance in the Middle East. In promoting this ambitious plan, the administration emphasized that in most nations, the Greater Middle Eastern Initiative would instigate reforms through political means and commitments made by the ruling elites. The recent political changes in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all been touted by the administration as the desirable fruits of GMI. However, in other nations such as Syria and Iran--due to the nature of the ruling elites-- the US appears to have distanced itself from pushing for reforms and instead be pursuing the policy of regime change.

There's no question that Iran and Syria are the Middle East's biggest problem. They support terrorism (Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad), facilitate the Iraqi insurgency, and brutally represse their own people. The Middle East will be a much more stable and promising region without them, but does US know who is going to take charge once the current regimes are dispensed with?

It could take years if not decades for people in the Middle East to replace a culture of despotism and terror with one of freedom and democracy. Years of Ethnic and religious conflicts, coups, occupations, wars and corrupt governments have robbed most Middle Eastern nations of any brush with democracy. In regimes such as Syria's and Iran's, credible opposition figures have continually been brutally eliminated and opposition factions have either fallen into in disarray or been banned from the political process. Under such conditions, the policy of regime change--if implemented hastily, such as what happened in Iraq--not only will not lead to a more liberal, secular, peaceful societies but, in case of Syria, can even pave the way for militant Islamist parties hostile to the West's interest to easily take charge .

As for Iran, the situation is even more complicated. Unfortunately, Iranian dissidents outside the country have got problems of their own. For one thing, they are unwilling to compromise their political ideologies to form a strong opposition coalition. This hasn't been lost on Iranian people whose ill-fated 1979 revolution has taught them not to put stock in a false panacea. In a nutshell, as long as the Iranian opposition factions, from monarchists to republicans, can't channel their outrage into concerted actions and policies toward forming a credible, all-inclusive alternative, they won't effect any change in Iran. Once again, under such circumstances, pushing regime change by military might can herald a disaster .

Before pushing for any dramatic regime change policy in Iran and Syria, the US administration should pull all its resources to help secular opposition factions of the two countries put together a strong opposition coalition. Only through such credible opposition leadership will US be able to help motivate the peoples of Syria and Iran to take further steps in democratizing their country and free themselves from their oppressive regimes, otherwise it is difficult to see US plan for a stable, democratic Middle East coming to a good end.