July 5, 2018
In November 2003, thousands of Georgian demonstrators took to the streets to protest the flawed results of a parliamentary election. They gave red roses to the soldiers symbolizing their peaceful intentions. And, soldiers who were expected to quell the protests laid down their guns. Thus, it became known as the Rose Revolution. No one was hurt. President Shevardnadze was replaced by Mikhail Saakashvili. Later he led Georgia into a disastrous confrontation with Russia in 2008; left the country 2013 only become a headache for Ukraine’s President Poroshenko.
In November 2004, Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko launched a mass protest campaign again over rigged elections that gave victory to pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. Supreme Court later annulled the poll result. In December 2004 Viktor Yushchenko won the election re-run. This was the Orange Revolution.
In February 2005 Kyrgyz parliamentary elections led to mass protests as numerous independent and opposition candidates were barred from standing. President Askar Akayev had to leave the country. This was the Tulip Revolution.
These revolutions reflected internal dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. In terms of their principal objective, that is achieving higher democratic standards the results have been mixed at best. And, whether there was external “encouragement” has been debated ever since.
Forced regime changes are a different category.
On October 7, 2001 American and British forces begin airstrikes in Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Later NATO became involved. In 2011, President Barack Obama increased the number of troops from 30,000 to 100,000 to combat the Taliban and stabilize the Afghan government. Yet, Afghanistan remains far away from stability.
In March 2003, the US and the UK launched the invasion of Iraq under false premises. The invasion of Iraq shifted Washington’s attention away from Afghanistan. It divided the international community. It led to controversy both within NATO and the EU. Two major military operations proved to be costly even for the world’s superpower. So, one may conclude with a good degree of certainty that had the Bush administration not got entangled in Iraq, Afghanistan could have been in a somewhat better position today.
The Arab Spring created new opportunities for forced regime change. Libya and Syria soon became targets for external intervention. In both cases, these interventions rapidly turned into proxy wars which have brought nothing but death, destruction and human suffering. Democracy is not even an illusion. Moreover, they have boomeranged in the form of a huge migration problem for Europe.
The foregoing shows that democracy’s evolution takes time and external meddling only leads to instability. Democracy cannot be airdropped. It can be promoted but not lectured. Moreover, it travels by land. The most plausible way of promoting democracy is leading by example. Nonetheless, regime change projects which are again certain to fail remain on the international agenda.
Ataturk’s reforms were watched with envy by Middle East peoples because they represented an extraordinary effort from within the region. EU’s December 17, 2004 Brussels summit was followed by nearly two hundred media representatives from Muslim countries because Turkey was to be given a date for the launching of accession negotiations with the EU. In the last decade, however, Turkey ceased to be an example to follow. Most Middle Eastern leaders while strongly disapproving Turkey’s regional policies must have welcomed the internal shift.
The people of Turkey, through the constitutional referendum of April 16, 2017 and the June 24, 2018 elections accomplished, though in the opposite direction, what other countries had been unable to do by massive protests, revolutions and the use of overwhelming military force: overnight, they gave President Erdogan absolute power. This is the latest example of regime change by popular vote. Underlying the poll results was not a thorough assessment of the proposed changes but questions of identity in a polarized country. At a time of global uncertainty, what this portends for what is now called the New Turkey’s future, its internal peace, economic, foreign and security policies, particularly its relations with the West remains to be seen. Early signs do not appear promising.