The Ineffectiveness of American Covert Regime Change Operations During the Struggle Against Islamist Terrorism.

Author:Cooley, Jason
Position:Commentary and Analysis

March 2016


Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, the United States government embarked on a campaign to weaken the Islamic extremist organizations that were present in the world. Some of the steps that this lone superpower took to accomplish this objective could be easily detected. However, there were others that went undetected until investigative reporters wrote about them in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other reputable newspapers. Once these covert initiatives were exposed, certain parties began to conduct inquiries to ascertain whether or not they were helping the United States prevent terrorist attacks by Islamist networks. Two initiatives, which received a considerable amount of attention in the post-9/11 era, were the Central Intelligence Agency's drone and enhanced interrogation programs. In 2009, the members of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that they would be conducting a thorough review of the latter. Approximately five years after this announcement, the committee released a report to the public that said sleep deprivation, waterboarding and other forms of torture did not lead to actionable intelligence. In other words, they did not produce any information that enabled the CIA to foil terrorist attacks which were on the verge of being carried out against the United States (Klapper and Dilanian 2014). A lot of the analyses of the CIA's drone program were conducted by prominent academics like Fawaz Gerges. At one point in The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda, this professor at the London School of Economics mentions how drone strikes often killed innocent civilians in Muslim countries. When civilians did perish, extremist organizations would see a rise in the number of recruits who were interested in executing terrorist operations (Gerges 2014, p.25).

Since the enhanced interrogation and drone programs have been focused on so much in the early portion of the twenty-first century, certain covert initiatives have yet to be examined by academics or figures affiliated with the U.S. government. A program, which really is in need of evaluation at this time, is America's covert support for parties that are attempting to engineer upheavals in various Muslim nations. Without question, the most outspoken proponent of this initiative in Washington is John Brennan. During a television interview, the present Director of Central Intelligence said that "it is important to bolster" these actors abroad (Brennan 2015). It would be possible to agree with Brennan if interventions were generating outcomes that made the United States more secure, but they have failed to do so while the battle against Islamist networks has been in progress. If we are going to see how this claim is meritorious, we will first need to identify some desirable and undesirable outcomes and then analyze a particular intervention in a thorough manner.

Desirable and Undesirable Outcomes from Covert Regime Change Operations

Over the years, the United States government has introduced various benchmarks to see if its foreign policy measures have been productive. Toward the beginning of 2003, Washington sent soldiers into Iraq to remove an unwanted regime from power. After this government was overthrown, a minor conflict commenced between multiple factions in Iraq. When this conflict became more intense, some officials in Washington claimed that U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. While these figures were calling for an end to the operation, another contingent inside the government was insisting that American military personnel should remain in Iraq until it became a stable country. The group, which was in favor of continuing the mission in Iraq, eventually managed to win this fierce debate in Washington. In the aftermath of the triumph, a set of standards was created so that the relevant parties in the American government could see if Iraq was turning into a secure nation. It was possible for interested citizens to find out what these benchmarks were because they appeared in government publications, including Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq.

When the U.S. government launched covert regime change operations in Muslim nations, it did not release reports to the public that contained the preferred outcomes for the missions. Consequently, an individual must find other ways to unearth what American officials probably wanted to see happen in the countries where these operations were transpiring. One possibility is to closely examine the sections of books that were written by officials after they left government and went to work in the private sector. Between 1980 and 2013, Mike Morell worked at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia. After he left the Agency, he wrote a book about the American campaign against extremist organizations. At one point in this 2015 release, he emphasizes how the United States will not succeed in this struggle unless it works closely with other nations. According to him, America must receive the most assistance from the countries in the Muslim world. Some of these nations have already demonstrated that they possess the traits which Morell thinks are essential in the fight against extremists. That is, they have shown that they have a considerable amount of determination as well as the ability to disrupt the activities of radical organizations (Morell 2015, p.317). One Muslim country, which has proven to be determined and capable in the post 9/11 world, is Indonesia. Between 2006 and 2014, there was a noticeable decline in the number of terrorist attacks inside this nation because the government took steps to weaken extremist groups, including arresting key operatives and launching various initiatives that were intended to keep citizens from being radicalized (Morell 2015, pp.320-321).

Since partners like Indonesia were considered to be a necessity in the campaign against extremism, it is safe to say that Morell and other influential figures in the American government wanted their covert regime change operations to produce new regimes that were willing and able to combat groups like al Qaeda. Now that the likely objective of U.S. officials has been identified, we can turn our attention to the results that these individuals probably wanted to eschew. Because Morell believes that it is important for the leaders of a Muslim country to exhibit a determination to battle radical organizations, we can presume that the figures inside the corridors of power in Washington did not want to see these clandestine initiatives produce new governments that were led by people who were unwilling to combat Islamist groups in an aggressive fashion. In other words, they did not want to see the rise of leaders like Hassan al-Turabi. Following a revolution in 1989, this figure assumed control of the Sudan...

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