Time to Talk of CIA Regime Change in Sudan?
It was only a matter of time before somebody started talking about “regime change” in Sudan. For all the right reasons, of course: to stop the bloodletting in Darfur. Intervention is always high-minded, isn’t it?
No less than Mr. Axis-of Evil himself, Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, is advocating “a thoughtful strategy that leads, step by step, to a government in Sudan that values the people of Darfur. . . .”
“This does not necessarily mean regime change,” Gerson wrote in his March 25 Washington Post column, “but it probably requires Bashir change — the emergence of a Sudanese leadership willing to start anew.”
Decapitation is the term of art. Since military intervention is out of the question (for too many reasons to list here), I guess that means calling in the CIA. You can’t use the Peace Corps for this.
Something like the Iran op in 1953, I guess he’s thinking. It was relatively bloodless. The CIA worked so fast in the overthrow of the socialist Mohammed Mossadeq the shah hardly had time to pin the medals on his jacket. Iran’s oil was safely back in our hands, for about 25 years. Nothing last forever.
“I’m a great believer in covert action,” says a veteran CIA station chief who retired a few years ago (and never lets me use his name). “By that I don’t mean sending military people in there and killing everybody. Something more subtle . . . Doing things that weaken the dictatorship’s control of the media is good.”
You fabricate unflattering articles for the newspapers and radio stations. At its best, people begin to laugh at the dictator. He’s toast.
But you need somebody to replace him. (Tyrants are so 20th century) Someone like Lech Walesa, the Solidarity union leader in Poland. The roughly handsome, mustachioed shipyard worker was a poster boy for democracy.
Walesas are rare.
“The problem is finding a guy the State Department approves of,” says the former station chief. “They always want a ‘moderate.’ They complained that the guys we used to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan were bad guys, and we should use ‘moderates.’ Well, we said, ‘Great, but the problem with moderates is that they don’t fight, and they can’t run the country.’ You end up with guys like [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai or Ahmad Chalabi [the neocon-backed Iraqi exile who fed phony intelligence to the White House and news media].
“They picked those guys and look what’s happened,” he said. “They want some guy in Florida who speaks English, has a beard and wears a turban and wants to go home.”
Coups usually have bad, long-term consequences, argues Haviland Smith, who was involved with Iran and spent a career working against the Soviet Union.
“Try to find any example of a covert op (regime change) that ultimately ended up favorable to the USA,” Smith said in an e-mail Friday. He pointed me to a piece he just published in American Diplomacy on the same subject.
“When a political action operation goes wrong or gets exposed, particularly if it involves regime change, the results can have a virtually endless negative impact,” Smith wrote.
“Latin America still chafes under the conviction that the United States attempted regime change in seven different countries in the 10 years between 1954 and 1964. Worse yet is the fact that the fallout of the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran in 1953 remains a major bone of contention over 55 years later!”
But back to Sudan.
“With the exception of the Darfur region, the country is stable. We are working closely with the Sudanese on counterterrorism and other issues . . .” says a former senior CIA official who likewise demands anonymity.
The problem is the political situation is like a Rubik’s Cube. Move one piece, all the others move.
“Darfur is much more complicated than most people realize,” he said, “with Israel, Chad, Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, the government of Southern Sudan and others playing various roles to keep the issue burning by supporting the various groups.”
In the end, he said, Sudan’s odious president, Umar al-Bashir, the army general who mounted a coup in 1989 and installed the National Islamic Front, is probably the least bad choice of all.
“Bashir would not be my first choice,” said the former senior CIA official, “but a covert action program to force him to do the right thing would be better than overthrowing him.”
“The Sudanese thing is about oil,” chipped in Garrett Jones, a retired CIA operations officer with experience in the region.
And there’s no good horse for the CIA to ride into Khartoum, he said.
“The guys on the rebel side are as crazy or crazier than Bashir,” Jones said. “If you are asking, Darfur is a bad place to try covert action. There are things you could do, but they would not make people feel good.”
“They would be concentrated on increasing the sophistication of the rebel groups so that a deal could be cut. That translates to thinning the herd of crazies, probably by encouraging internecine warfare and hoping the reasonably rational guys win.”
Sounds very ugly.
“George Clooney, et al., would not be amused,” Jones said.
Another former CIA case officer thinks covert action is junk. He quit a few years back and went into an entirely different field.
“I’m always half-amused by the term covert action, because it seems like the ones that accomplish their goals — Nicaragua and Afghanistan (the first time) — aren’t covert at all, and although run by the CIA, they are really military operations in spirit,” he said.
“The ones that are truly covert (Poland, maybe?) seem impressive, but I harbor a suspicion that their importance is inflated. Solidarity would have done fine without our printing presses, and by sending them, we exposed them to some serious charges of being spies.”
”On the other hand,” he added, “out-and-out military action for humanitarian purposes doesn’t work out too well, even when it seems to at first. And doing nothing sucks.”
“So I don’t know,” he added.
“More and more, I’m choosing not to have opinions — seriously, ever since I thought invading Iraq was a great idea.”