The war drums between Washington and Tehran may have quieted for now, but judging from the trend over the past 15 years, it is only a matter of time before they beat again.
Make no mistake – the United States is not concerned as much by Iran’s nuclear program, nor its regional meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries or its ill-record of human rights.
The incumbent Trump administration is adamant on one thing: Regime change.
This should not come as a surprise. The United States has in the past century been the world’s foremost practitioner in toppling the governments of other countries. It backed the Free Officers Movement that toppled Egypt’s King Farouk I, it backed the toppling of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, and it orchestrated numerous attempts to kill Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro. Some of these CIA designed attempts have even been turned into cinematic pieces. However, toppling governments is no laughing matter. It’s a bloody business where civilians often pay the highest price.
And Iran is no laughing matter either. With its ideologically indoctrinated military, widespread public disdain toward foreign interference and deep national consciousness, the country is a much harder nut to crack.
The domino effect
A change of regime will only foment more regional chaos and instability. Here is why:
First, in the absence of a coherent and viable political successor in Iran, the likelihood of regime change succeeding is unlikely. The American-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 intervention in Libya were justified partly on the grounds of removing non-democratic regimes and promoting democracy and stability.
However, they succeeded only in creating knee-deep quagmires, a proliferation of armed nonstate actors, infighting and wanton destruction. By installing pliable dictators or governments, intervening states fail to develop democratic governance and result in creating politically weak and economically poor states that are least likely to democratize. Take Iraq and Afghanistan as a case in point: According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World survey, Iraq is barely more democratic today than it was prior to the 2003 invasion. The same goes for Afghanistan. Rare are cases that transformed wartime adversaries into stable, democratic allies. The decades-old U.S. occupation of Japan and West Germany following World War II are a case in point. That is partly because intervening states often lack the political, military and economic commitment to remain indefinitely in the invaded country in the face of political opposition and/or armed resistance.
Second, toppling the existing and functioning government in Iran is bound to create regional instability with serious repercussions. According to Alexander B. Downes, more than 40% of states that experienced foreign-imposed regime change have had a civil war within 10 years. A civil war in an intervened state can erupt either during the process of removing the old regime from power and suppressing its remnants or because of the abrupt reversal of the status of formerly advantaged groups or because of the reversal of popular policies and the introduction of unpopular ones.
We have seen this in Iraq and Afghanistan where former Baathist and Taliban members shortly after the U.S. led-military intervention, took up arms in a deadly insurgency. In addition, history teaches us that – once the central government weakens – the periphery and border provinces vie for more autonomy that can lead to secessionism and armed conflict.
Should a country slide into war following regime change, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, millions of people seek (temporary) shelter in the nearest stable country (Turkey) and (permanent) shelter in the European Union.
A new influx of Iranian refugees in Europe will create yet another wave of Islamophobia and xenophobia, further empowering far right parties that have made significant gains in the latest European parliamentary elections.