Sunday, November 06, 2005

Regime Change Mood Changed

Fearing an Iraq in a Post-Assad Syria - New York Times

It's very noticeable that in Washington these days the phrase "regime change" isn't heard very often, if at all.

It used to be different. In wilder circles, there was the belief that regime change could be done fairly easily in a number of different places, and that the result would be immediately beneficial.

Those days are definitely gone.

Not only has Iraq been a rather sobering experience, but so has near-by Iran. It can be argued that we have seen an element of regime change in Iran in the last few months, and there is no doubt whatsoever that it has been for the worse. And as for Iraq, the jury is very much out on where that country will end up.

Accordingly, the approach taken to these issues is now distinctly more cautious. Toppling regimes and expecting sudden democracy is no longer the flavour of the month. Rather, it is the careful managment of situations that have the potential of getting worse as well as better.

Syria is a case to the point.

Syria is a majority Sunni Muslim country ruled brutally since decades by a minority Islamic sect of Alawites. It also has large populations of Christians and Kurds, and for decades its leadership has emphasized Arab nationalism over Syrian national identity.

Much can happen there if the minority dictatorship of the Alawites is toppled. The worst-case chain of events has Sunnis finally rising up against Alawites, while the country fractures along ethnic, religious and ideological lines.

That would - mildly speaking - not be a welcome development. There are enough of challenges in the region already.

Accordingly, we are likely to see a somewhat cautious approach to Syria, in spite of the pressure the regime theren is now under as a result of the UN investigation into the Hariri murder in Lebanon. Calls for immediate, sudden and unprepared regime change will be few and far in-between.

And the same might well apply to the situation in Azerbaijan as it comes out of the parliamentary election today.

The mood concerning regime change has changed. It's not yet a policy change, but it's definitely a mood change.