The Long View 2003-03-12: Regime Changes

This post of John's reminds me of one of my favorite stories about Jerry Pournelle, as related by Steve Sailer:

Jerry should know because back in 1967, Jerry, Stefan Possony, and then-Crown Prince in Exile Leka (or Laika) organized an invasion of Albania by exiles to overthrow Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. King Hussein of Jordan agreed to provide air cover to wipe out the small Albanian air force to allow the invaders to cross the channel from Corfu, where they were training in the King Constantine of Greece's palace. Jerry spent a lot of time in Jordan training their pilots on how to pull off a sneak attack and wipe out the Albanian planes on the ground. Then, in June 1967, the Israelis pulled off their own sneak attack and wiped out the Jordanian air force on the ground, so the liberation of Albania had to be called off.

Decades later, Jerry met the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who had been in charge of the Israeli Air Force in 1967. Jerry explained how Weizman had wrecked his invasion of Albania. Weizman exclaimed to the effect that You were that foreigner who was training the Jordanians how to pull of a sneak attack? We thought you were a Russian training the Jordanians to attack us!

When is Jerry going to write his autobiography?


Regime Changes
Admittedly, some things seem obvious to me that are not necessarily obvious to everybody: consider my views on spelling reform. Nonetheless, I was still somewhat surprised to learn that the Bush Administration is of two minds about changing the regime in North Korea. This would be an enterprise fraught with peril, but that is true of every option for the peninsula. Since only a new government would solve the nuclear proliferation issue, and since the existing regime is a starvation machine in terms of domestic policy, you might think that getting rid of it would at least be on everybody's wishlist. Apparently not though: too many policy-makers will always prefer the chaos they know.
I don't want to broach the question now of just what should be done about North Korea, but I might point out that modern hermit-kingdoms tend to disintegrate spontaneously. Perhaps the closest analogy to North Korea is Communist Albania. Xenophobic, armed to the teeth, with a ferocious pseudo-Maoist ideology, the regime in the 1970s and '80s seemed indestructible by anything short of nuclear bombardment, and even then the Party leadership would be sure to survive in an elaborate system of tunnels. Then, in 1991, system went poof! with little trouble. It turned out that Orwellian official ideology simply masked traditional clan politics. Just as important, one of the drawbacks of xenophobia is that there is no community of states to keep you on the straight and narrow. Petty tyrannies can be abolished in the course of a morning.
The problem with North Korea, of course, is that Tokyo or Seattle can be nuked in the course of a morning, too. Even barring anything so drastic, the odds that the regime will try to sell nuclear materials or devices before it falls are quite bright. This is the sort of situation that really could be handled with an international embargo. This is the sort of thing the United Nations was designed to do.
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Whatever happens with Iraq, the United Nations has already disgraced itself. The war could not have started before February, for logistical reasons. If the Security Council had stayed united behind its existing resolutions, the Iraqis would probably have changed their own government in Januray. As it happened, though, the Council has managed to arrive at the worst of all possible outcomes for its own legitimacy and credibility. That is why people like William Safire now consider it the merest nullity, and speak of organizing the "Allied Nations" to deal with real security issues.
That would be one way to go, but it's not the one the Bush Administration has taken. I don't think that the point has quite sunk in that the president is neither dismissing the UN nor trying to save its reputation. Rather, in insisting that the Security Council vote on an ultimatum for Iraq, he is using the UN to hold the governments on the Council responsible before their own publics. The president is wildly unpopular in Europe these days, but the oppostion parties could quickly reverse that, provided the outcome of a war paints the Iraqi government in a sufficiently bad light.
What is true about the United Nations is also true of the European Union. That structure could work quite well to coerce the French into responsible behavior, if the US has the support of the smaller states. For that reason, I rather expect that some of the countries and parties that have supported the EU most strongly will begin to sabotage the whole project. I see that the euro is now approaching its launch value, and analysts still expect it to appreciate significantly against the dollar this year. I would not bet on it.
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Not all the instability is on the side of the Axis of Chaos. Key members of the Labor Party are threatening to call for a special conference to choose a new leader, should Tony Blair try to proceed to a war against Iraq without a new resolution. This all sounds a little like the defenestration of Margaret Thatcher during the Persian Gulf War, but with two differences:
Britain was already committed when she had to step down in November, 1990. The choice of a new prime minister did not affect the course of the war. This time, the point of a party revolt would be to derail the war, or at least Britain's participation in it.
Unlike in 1990, the main opposition party, such as it is, is stronger for the war than is the government's party. It is thus possible to imagine the Blair Government staying in power long enough to conduct the war in large part with Conservative support. This would work only if the government does not have to do anything until the dust settles.
The odds are that the Blair Government will face no such crisis. Of course, the odds are also good that George W. Bush will serve at least a term in office, but we should note that some people are now seeking to arrange matters otherwise. David Enrich of National Review has famously reported on the movement among liberal Democrats to impeach the president, or at least to embarrass him by putting articles before Congress for that purpose. The draft under consideration would accuse President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General John Ashcroft of various "high crimes and misdemeanors." In addition to allegations of subverting civil liberties under the guise of waging the domestic war on terrorism, it would also accuse members of the Administration of bombing civilians in Afghanistan and of plotting aggressive war against Iraq. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post had the best response to this:
So will we now have a two-year presidential cycle, where we just elect 'em and then the other party tries to impeach 'em?
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And what do I think of GWB's chances in 2004? I think that he has no serious domestic policy. On the other hand, I also think the economy will be doing quite well once the current uncertainty lifts. He should have no trouble being reelected, provided he stops talking about tax reduction.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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