Losing The Long Game - The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East By Philip H Gordon
Since the end of World War II, the United States has set out to oust governments in the Middle East on an average of once per decade. It has done so in places as diverse as Iran, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, to count only the instances where regime change—the removal of a country’s leaders and transformation of its political system— was the goal of U.S. policy and where an administration made sustained efforts to bring it about. The motives for U.S. interventions in all of these countries have been equally varied, including countering communism, competing with geopolitical rivals, preventing the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combating terrorism, saving civilian lives, and trying to promote democracy. And the methods by which the United States has pursued regime change have also been extraordinarily diverse: sponsoring a military coup, providing covert or overt military assistance to opposition groups, invading and occupying, invading and not occupying, providing airpower to opposition forces, and relying on diplomacy, rhetoric, and sanctions alone.
What is common to all these efforts, however, is that they invariably failed to achieve their ultimate goals, produced a range of unintended—and often catastrophic—consequences, carried extraordinary financial and human costs, and in many cases left both the target country and the United States worse off than they were before. This book is the story of how regime change in the Middle East has proven so tempting to American policy makers for decades and of why it always seems to go wrong. I’ve called the book Losing the Long Game because regime change often seems to work out in the short term—leading to premature declarations of victory by its proponents—but then ends up failing badly as costs mount, unintended consequences arise, and instability spreads in the wake of the apparent initial success. In fact, the long-term results of regime change in the region are so consistently disappointing— regardless of the reasons why it was tried or the manner in which plans were executed—that it is surprising so many policy makers and analysts keep coming back to it as a viable policy option, hoping that somehow it will work out better next time. The track record also shows that the reason for the recurring failure is not just a matter of poor implementation or lack of sustained follow-up—the most common excuses of regime change proponents. Instead, it shows that there are inherently high costs, unexpected consequences, and insurmountable obstacles that make it exceedingly difficult for the United States to replace objectionable Middle Eastern regimes and leaders without creating new, different, and often bigger problems.