Betting on change: an American dream

There is chaos aplenty on the horizon as the West, particularly the U.S., imagines a new regime in Iran, Russia and China

Updated - October 26, 2022 12:44 pm IST

Published - October 26, 2022 12:49 am IST

Protesters march in solidarity with protesters in Iran on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 22

Protesters march in solidarity with protesters in Iran on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 22 | Photo Credit: AFP

There are three countries in which the West in general and the U.S. in particular would like to see regime change: Iran, Russia and China. Iran is the most promising; China, the least.

Once the Ayatollahs took over Iran in 1979, they demanded hand over of the Shah from America where he had taken refuge. The U.S. refused and the Islamist students took over the American embassy in Tehran, holding the diplomats hostage for 444 days. Ever since, the relations between Washington and Tehran have been extremely unfriendly. A superpower, humiliated, must not rest until the regime is toppled. During the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war, the Americans were clearly on Iraq’s side, which gave further cause to the Iranians to hate the US.

Iran’s nuclear programme has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. America had no objection per se in Iran having nuclear weapons so long as Shah was in power; indeed, they set up several nuclear plants in Iran. Once the mullahs declared their determination to drive Israel into the sea, the Americans had no choice but to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear programme and to impose stringent economic sanctions against it. There were opportunities to reach an agreement on this festering issue, but they were not seized. Mr. Trump denounced the nuclear deal worked out by President Obama; he too had little choice in the face of Israel’s stubborn opposition to any deal with Iran.

The U.S. is looking at the current wave of protests in Iran, already several weeks long, as an opportunity to bring the regime down. Even the Iranian oil industry has joined in the protests. This is not as farfetched as it might appear. The mullahs surely remember how the CIA in 1953 brought down the democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh, who had nationalised the Iranian oil industry. Tehran accuses the U.S. as being behind the protests sparked by the death of an Iranian woman during police custody for refusing to wear the hijab. Can one dismiss their claim altogether? The Tehran regime is using brutal force to bring the situation under control. However, the protests, combined with the dire economic situation, might pose existential threat to the regime. The mullahs must not underestimate the capability of CIA to elevate the protests into a civil war, or of the staying power of the protesters. Even a strong man like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt had to step down despite controlling the military and intelligence. Iran would do well to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue at an early date.

As for Russia, President Biden publicly called for Mr. Putin’s removal. “For God’s sake, that man, (meaning President Putin,) cannot remain in power,” he said in Warsaw in March. Does Putin’s war on Ukraine open up, however slightly, the door for a regime change in the Kremlin? The war has gone extremely badly so far for Mr. Putin. He may not care about his isolation internationally, but domestic dissent, which is growing, raises inconvenient questions for him. He too is facing humiliation and has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons. His counter sanctions against the West by denying energy supplies to them are unlikely to produce change of behaviour just as the Western sanctions have not worked in making Mr. Putin sue for peace. However, even Mr. Gorbachev had to pull out of Afghanistan; his country could no longer afford to remain in Afghanistan and the families of the fallen soldiers generated almost unbearable protests. Mr. Putin may face similar situation at some stage.

Mr. Biden is in no hurry. The U.S. is not interested in a ceasefire. The war does not cost them anything. The arms industry is booming and American blood is not being shed. As and when Ukraine begins to rebuild itself, it is mostly the American companies that will reap all the contracts.

{A thought regarding Ukraine. While the big powers are indulging in irresponsible talk of nuclear war and Armageddon, the rest of the world is suffering grievously, particularly the developing countries. They must not continue to sit with folded hands. One of them, such as India, either singly or with like-minded partners, should table a resolution in the Security Council demanding immediate end to the hostilities in situ, to be followed by intense diplomacy by the Secretary General with all the parties to explore avenues to find face-saving formula that might satisfy or dissatisfy everyone equally. It might receive positive reaction from some and negative from others. The overwhelming membership of the UN will welcome the initiative. It might get vetoed, but the exercise would be worthwhile in generating a strong opinion against the war.}

China is a different story. The Chinese Communist Party, with its 90 million members, is firmly, though perhaps not too comfortably, entrenched. Its economy is the second largest in the world. Its military, growing more powerful by the day, is well disciplined; at least so it appears. What sustains the CCP is its remarkable feat in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of the people. So long as the party can increase prosperity, it is safe. Hence, the economic war with China which Mr. Trump started and Mr. Biden is continuing and ratcheting up almost every week.

There have been some rumblings, reported in the media, among senior echelons of the CCP; how true, one does not know. Protests have taken place against the COVID lockdown and even against the Supreme Leader. All in all, China offers the least potential for regime change, but the U.S. will not abandon the goal. One of Mr. Biden’s successors, however removed, might succeed.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan is former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations

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