Home/Daniel Larison/‘Restoring Democracy’ Is the New Code for Regime Change

‘Restoring Democracy’ Is the New Code for Regime Change

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

NBC News reports on the Trump administration’s regime change-in-all-but-name policy for Iran:

“We certainly don’t like this regime. It’s a deeply hypocritical religious dictatorship that robs its people blind,” a State Department official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told NBC News. “Ultimately, it’s up to the Iranian people to decide what government they want to live under. …We want the Iranian people to be successful. We hope they can restore democracy there [bold mine-DL].”

Pompeo made a similar remark about “restoring” democracy in Iran last month in an interview with Laura Ingraham. This seems to have become a talking point inside the department, and officials are echoing Pompeo’s language even when they’re speaking anonymously. The administration is obviously seeking regime change, but they want to keep up the pretense that they aren’t trying to force anything upon the Iranian people at the same time that they are strangling their economy and destroying their savings through sanctions. “It’s up to the people,” they say, as they throttle the people and try to goad them into rebellion.

The rhetoric of democracy “restoration” is no better than Bush-era claptrap about democracy promotion, and especially in Iran’s case it makes no sense. Iran has not really been a democracy at any point, so what do they think should be restored? There is a tradition of parliamentary and representative government in the last century, but the last time there was an elected Iranian government that did something the U.S. didn’t like our government conspired in its overthrow and embraced a dictatorship instead. No one seriously thinks that this administration hopes that Iran gets a government that genuinely represents the interests of the Iranian people, because such a government would refuse to accept their unrealistic and extreme demands. Trump’s own National Security Advisor is a major MEK cheerleader, so we have to assume that when administration officials say they want to “restore democracy” they mean exactly the opposite.

The Trump administration probably doesn’t want to admit that it is seeking regime change because policies of regime change have produced such nightmarish results at great cost to the people in the affected country and the surrounding region. Advocates of regime change are now very wary of having their terrible policy ideas likened to those that led to the wars in Iraq and Libya, and so they don’t even want to own up to that they seeking the overthrow of a regime that they clearly wish to topple. Regardless, the administration’s Iran policy is sure to fail on its own terms whether they define the goal as “changing regime behavior” or changing the regime, because the Iranian people aren’t going to cooperate with the administration’s plans to use them to bring chaos and instability to their country.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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