Small Wars Journal

The Continued Failure of Preventive Covert Regime Change Operations During the American Campaign Against Islamic Extremism

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 1:10am

The Continued Failure of Preventive Covert Regime Change Operations During the American Campaign Against Islamic Extremism

Jason Cooley


In the late 1940s, the United States started to perform a considerable amount of covert operations throughout the globe.  A lot of these initiatives were designed to overthrow regimes that were controlled by individuals who were not interested in cooperating with America in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.  However, some were actually intended to topple leaders who were receptive to working closely with the world’s most formidable capitalist power.  Policymakers in Washington were eager to replace these allies because they were under the impression that communist takeovers were possible in the target nations.  A decade after the Cold War concluded, the United States became involved in another global conflict against Islamic hardliners.  While this war was in progress, America opted to conduct other preventive covert regime change operations when it was believed that partners could be forced from office by radical Islamic networks.[1]

U.S. officials were hoping that preventive operations during the campaigns against communism and Islamic extremism would lead to the establishment of loyal regimes that could last for an extended period of time, but they usually failed to do so.  If the reader is going to recognize the validity of this contention, preventive covert regime change operations from both the Cold War and the effort against Islamic extremist groups will need to be taken into consideration in the following pages.  At first, we will examine a preventive initiative that transpired in South Vietnam in the 1960s.  Once the analysis of this case from the Cold War is completed, it will be possible for us to turn our attention to a preventive operation that occurred in Egypt as the American campaign against Islamists was getting under way in the early portion of the twenty-first century.

The Overthrow of an American Ally in South Vietnam in the Middle of the 1960s  

The preventive covert regime change operation that will be dealt with in this section happened in 1963.  However, it will not be possible to understand why the United States elected to conduct this initiative unless certain developments during preceding years are discussed beforehand.  When the Cold War began, American officials were only worried about communism spreading throughout Western Europe.  As this conflict continued, though, they started to think that it could also become ubiquitous in other regions of the world.  Out of all of these regions, the one, which Washington was the most concerned about, was Asia.  For a couple of years, China was controlled by figures who were willing to cooperate with the United States in the struggle against the Soviet Union.  Then, in 1949, after a prolonged guerrilla campaign, Mao Tse-Tung and other communists seized control of one of Asia’s most influential nations.  It did not take the leaders of the new Chinese government much time to enter into an alliance with America’s major nemesis on the world stage.  Since policymakers in Washington did not want to see the Soviet Union gain any more Asian allies, they decided to provide various forms of support to parties who exhibited a determination to keep communism out of their respective nations.

One of the main beneficiaries of American aid was the leader of the fledgling country of South Vietnam.  Prior to the Second World War, the French government was able to rule Vietnam and its other colonies without much trouble.  In the aftermath of this conflict, though, it was quite difficult for Paris to maintain control of these territories.  When a campaign for independence commenced inside Vietnam in 1946, French forces attempted to defeat the insurgents, but they experienced a series of ignominious defeats.  Following a loss at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, French officials opted to sign a peace agreement at a conference in Geneva.  The deal, which was finalized in this Swiss city, stated that Vietnam had to be divided into northern and southern sections for eighteen months.  Once this period of time elapsed, the country could be reunified with elections that would be closely monitored by representatives from Canada, India, and Poland.[2]  These elections that were called for in the Geneva agreement never took place because Ngo Dinh Diem, a capitalist who assumed control of the southern part of Vietnam and feared a victory by Ho Chi Minh, a communist who seized control in the north, refused to participate.

While Diem was not in favor of holding elections, he was interested in having the southern portion of Vietnam turned into a sovereign state.  At one point in Legitimacy in International Society, Ian Clark, a professor at the University of Aberystwyth, discusses the way that an entity becomes a legitimate state.  According to him, an actor cannot be considered an actual state until the leaders of established states begin to view it as one.[3]  If the heads of certain states see a party as a legitimate state, they will choose to establish diplomatic outposts in the territory that it controls.  In other words, they will take the time to open up embassies and consulates in this territory.  Back in the 1950s, there were not any communist states that were willing to open up embassies and consulates in the southern portion of Vietnam, but America and a number of other capitalist states were amenable to taking this step.  In addition to sending diplomatic personnel to South Vietnam, the United States elected to deploy military advisors to this Southeast Asian nation.

Once the American advisors arrived in South Vietnam, they started to train the members of the military that was being developed.  It was deemed to be imperative for Diem to have competent soldiers to depend on at this time because an insurgency had come into existence in the countryside.  If the individuals in a resistance campaign are going to overthrow a particular leader, they will need to secure the approbation of numerous citizens in the state in which they are operating.[4]  At first, the leaders of the South Vietnamese resistance effort were not supported by many individuals.  However, as more time elapsed, they managed to gain a lot of followers in the countryside as well as urban areas.  By 1960, officials in the U.S. government were even acknowledging that the Vietcong, a major communist group, was adept at attracting supporters.  In one intelligence estimate from this year, some figures went so far as to say “Diem’s political base had been seriously eroded, and that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV)-supported Vietcong posed a vital threat” to the South Vietnamese regime.[5]

In order to understand why the resistance campaign gained a considerable amount of sympathizers, we must examine important decisions that were made by Diem.  Over the years, many studies have been produced about the subject of revolutionary movements.  One of the most prominent inquiries was completed by Ted Robert Gurr in the early 1970s.  Throughout Why Men Rebel, Gurr discusses why citizens in different countries elect to participate in insurgencies that have been organized by subversive organizations.  According to him, the major reason why these individuals take this step is because they are being deprived of certain essentials by figures in power.[6]  While looking closely at the situation in South Vietnam, one cannot help but notice that President Diem was keeping numerous people from having access to various necessities.  One American political scientist has mentioned that it is the responsibility of governments to provide education, healthcare, and other basic services to the individuals who reside in the territories that they control.[7]  Under the leadership of Diem, a segment of the South Vietnamese population consistently failed to receive government services due to their religious affiliation.  As was the case in most Southeast Asian nations, the majority of the people in South Vietnam were followers of the Buddhist faith.  Since Diem was a practicing Catholic, he often instructed his subordinates to keep government resources from being used by the members of the Buddhist community.

The decision by Diem to place restrictions on government services pushed a number of South Vietnamese into the ranks of groups like the Vietcong.  However, there were others who chose to join these entities since they objected to the manner in which the President of South Vietnam was depriving people of civil liberties.  Shortly after his time in office commenced, Diem introduced Ordinance Number Six, which said that any person who was deemed to be a threat to the state could be imprisoned.  Following the release of this directive, countless individuals were taken into custody by the members of Diem’s security services.  By the end of 1958, there were approximately 40,000 citizens inside the prisons of South Vietnam.[8]

Officials in America were cognizant of the fact that the decision-making of the Saigon government was bolstering the insurgency, but no major steps were taken to address this problem until after a leadership change took place at the top of the American government in 1961.  Between 1955 and the early part of 1961, all of the key U.S. policies for the crisis in South Vietnam were approved by Dwight Eisenhower, a president who was not that interested in ameliorating the poor living conditions that had emerged during Diem’s time in office.  When Eisenhower’s second term ended on January 20th, the United States began to urge policymakers in Saigon to concentrate more on meeting the needs of citizens because John F. Kennedy, the new Commander-in-Chief in Washington, was in favor of implementing a far more ambitious counterinsurgency plan in South Vietnam.[9]  It did not take the Diem regime very long to develop new programs that were designed to enhance the living standards of the South Vietnamese people.  Out of all of these initiatives, the one, which the members of the Kennedy administration were the most eager to see succeed, was the Strategic Hamlet Program.[10]  Once this campaign was introduced in 1962, numerous individuals in the countryside were forced to leave their homes and live in hamlets that were heavily protected by South Vietnamese soldiers.

Efforts like the Strategic Hamlet Program did not produce the outcome that political figures in Saigon and Washington had envisioned.  In other words, they did not weaken the resistance campaign that had been in progress for several years.  One of the developments, which made it quite clear that this movement was continuing to gain strength, transpired in the middle of 1963.  During the month of May, Buddhists participated in a protest in the city of Hue to show their disapproval of the Diem regime.  In the middle of this act of civil disobedience, nine of the protesters were killed by security personnel with both guns and grenades.[11]  Outraged by this brutality in Hue, prominent Buddhist leaders began to organize additional protests in other parts of South Vietnam, including one in Saigon that was attended by approximately 15,000 people.[12]

Not only did the unrest in 1963 make the members of the Kennedy administration realize that the reforms of the Diem regime had failed, it made them recognize that it would be advantageous to oust Diem in a clandestine manner.  When senior officials in Washington want to remove an ally, who has proven to be a liability, in this fashion, they usually have two options available to them.  If there are individuals serving under the unappealing ruler who also appear to be in favor of an ouster, U.S. policymakers can conduct a coup d’etat in the target state.  During the early 1960s, the American government utilized this strategy in the Dominican Republic.  At the beginning of the 1930s, an oppressive dictator named Rafael Trujillo came to power in this Caribbean nation.  Initially, U.S. political figures refrained from scrutinizing Trujillo for the manner in which he led his state since he often helped them accomplish key foreign policy objectives.  Over the course of time, though, they started to think that it would be beneficial to have another figure at the top of the Dominican Republic’s government.  After the Central Intelligence Agency learned that generals in the Dominican Republic’s military were interested in bringing Trujillo’s time in office to an end, U.S. policymakers instructed it to provide the plotters with assistance.  On May 30, 1961, the CIA’s collaborators assassinated Trujillo as he was traveling in a car outside of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The other way that representatives of the U.S. can clandestinely remove an ally from power is by providing assistance to actors outside the government. In 1948, Elpidio Quirino took control of the Philippines after the death of Manuel Roxas.  Quirino quickly became an ally of the United States since he made different moves that were intended to keep communism from spreading, including combating a left-wing insurgency on Filipino territory.  While Quirino was seeking to remain president in 1953, most presumed that Washington would attempt to secure a victory for him in the election.  However, American officials opted to support another anti-communist candidate named Ramon Magsasay.  Following the closing of the polls on November 10th, it was determined that Magsaysay had received over a million more votes than the incumbent.   

While the covert American intervention in the Dominican Republic was being discussed in the preceding paragraph, it was noted how individuals at the CIA discovered that there were disgruntled generals in the military who wanted to oust Trujillo.  Toward the end of 1963, the Agency was informed that certain generals in the South Vietnamese military were eager to remove Diem from power.  When this information was presented to the individuals in the Kennedy administration, they concurred that the best way to orchestrate Diem’s ouster was with a coup d’etat.  Kennedy eventually made certain moves to give the plotters in South Vietnam a better chance to succeed.  For example, he told CIA operatives in Southeast Asia to provide them with 42,000 dollars shortly before they set their plan in motion.[13]  It can be said that these maneuvers by the thirty-fifth President of the United States were fruitful since Diem’s reign in South Vietnam came to an end on November 1, 1963.

Following the removal of Diem, Duong Van Minh, one of the plotters, became the leader of South Vietnam.  Like most individuals who come to power in the aftermath of a coup d’etat, Minh attempted to distance himself from his predecessor.  During his eight years in office, Diem had placed several friends and family members in key posts within the Saigon regime.  Minh proceeded to dismiss many of these Diem allies after he seized control of South Vietnam.  In addition to terminating several Diem loyalists, Minh opted to halt various initiatives that had been introduced by his predecessor, including the Strategic Hamlet Program.  Although these changes were made by the new leader, dissident networks in South Vietnam still managed to become more formidable, especially the communist group that was being supported by the North Vietnamese government.  Outside of Saigon, multiple parties were reporting that the amount of villages under Vietcong control was continuing to rise.[14]  As some members of the Vietcong were seizing additional villages, others were increasing the number of attacks against South Vietnamese soldiers who were present in the countryside.  Because the strength of the resistance campaign did not decrease, Minh was only able to remain in office for a period of three months.[15]

Before this discussion about South Vietnam is brought to an end, it should be mentioned that Minh’s successors did not encounter any success either.  Out of all of these individuals, the one, who served the longest, was Nguyen Von Thieu. When Thieu took over as the leader of South Vietnam in 1965, the United States was starting to send combat troops to Southeast Asia to fight against the Vietcong.  This leader had these additional soldiers fighting on his behalf, but the members of the Vietcong continued to seize territory and conduct major attacks throughout South Vietnam.  In the aftermath of an attack at the beginning of 1968, the United States government started to take steps to reduce its involvement in the Vietnamese conflict.  Among them was gradually withdrawing all of the members of the American military who were situated in Southeast Asia.  After this withdrawal was completed in the 1970s, Thieu’s government was toppled by Vietcong forces and troops from North Vietnam.

The Toppling of a Client Regime in Egypt during the Campaign against Islamic Extremism

In the middle portion of the twentieth century, the members of the black population in the United States worked assiduously to bring an end to racial inequality.  A lot of the participants in this famous movement were under the impression that the most promising strategy for altering the status quo was non-violence.  After a while, this approach did generate some positive results, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but several figures in the African-American community were not pleased with this progress and began to insist that major changes would not be seen until acts of political violence were conducted.  One of the best ways to notice this evolution is by taking the experience of Stokely Carmichael into consideration.  During the early part of the 1960s, Carmichael participated in several marches in Mississippi and other states in the southern portion of America.  By 1966, he had become the leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the most prominent organizations associated with the civil rights campaign.  As chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Carmichael did not promote civil disobedience like his predecessors.  Instead, he used his public appearances to inform older black Americans that the time had come to locate “young blacks who are cutting and shooting each other and tell them they are doing the cutting and shooting to the wrong people.”[16]

If a person were to look closely at other political movements, he or she would likely find more activists like Stokely Carmichael.  In other words, he or she would probably come across people who began to embrace violence once non-violent acts did not lead to the outcomes that they desired. A lot of the individuals, who have been affiliated with campaigns for political change, have undergone this transformation, but there have also been times when dissidents have turned to non-violence after violent attacks have proven to be ineffective.  In the following paragraphs, we will have an opportunity to examine one of these cases. 

In 1936, King Farouk assumed control of the nation of Egypt.  Many were hopeful that this young monarch’s time in power would be prosperous, but various problems surfaced during his reign, including corruption in the Egyptian government.  As the amount of problems in this Arab country increased, parties within and outside the government began to insist that Farouk needed to be overthrown.  One of the most outspoken critics of the king inside the government was a contingent of generals led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and Muhammad Naguib.  During 1952, these generals finally took some steps to secure the ouster of the unpopular leader.  At one point in July, they had members of the military occupy the city of Alexandria, where Farouk was staying in the Montaza Palace.  Shortly after this turn of events, Farouk was ordered by the soldiers to relinquish control of the Egyptian government.  When Farouk complied with this request, he was allowed to go safely into exile. 

Inside the preceding section, we saw how one of the generals, who was involved in the coup against Diem, went on to become the ruler of South Vietnam. Following the 1952 coup in Egypt, the general, who was given the opportunity to become a head of state, was Nasser.  Nasser did not have to deal with a lot of internal critics like his predecessor did between 1936 and 1952.  However, he did have to cope with certain detractors outside the corridors of power in Cairo.  Out of all of these external critics, the most influential one was the Muslim Brotherhood.  With approximately 500,000 members, this organization was not in favor of Nasser’s plan to have Egypt remain a secular nation.[17]  Instead, it wanted to see Egypt transformed into a country that was strongly influenced by the teachings of the Islamic faith.  Later in the 1950s, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood occasionally attempted to produce this change that they desired by performing acts of political violence.  At one point in 1954, they even tried to assassinate Nasser as he was making a speech in front of a large crowd in Alexandria. 

After surviving the assassination attempt in Alexandria, Nasser had his subordinates engage in different activities that were intended to make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to operate on Egyptian soil.  The individuals, who Nasser relied upon the most in his campaign against this Islamist organization, were police officers and soldiers from the military.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, law enforcement personnel and troops placed numerous members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian prisons.  Upon being taken into custody, some of these activists were executed by their captors.  Undoubtedly, the most famous figure from the Muslim Brotherhood who had his life taken by prison personnel was Sayyid Qutb.  In August 1965, Qutb was imprisoned for participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the Egyptian government.  Following his hanging on August 29, 1966, he was looked at as a martyr by Islamists in Egypt and other Muslim countries.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood was subjected to this aggressive campaign, it still went on to push for the establishment of an Islamic theocracy in Egypt.  However, it did not continue to try to produce this change by conducting acts of political violence.  Instead, it began to depend on a non-violent strategy in its resistance effort against the authoritarian regime that was guided by secularism.  Over the years, some non-violent groups have attempted to alter the status quo simply by organizing marches in their respective countries.  Meanwhile, others have opted to accompany marches with initiatives that are designed to ameliorate the living conditions of those who have been disregarded by governmental leaders.  It can be claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the entities that preferred to do more than just hold anti-government protests.  After all, in the years following the switch to non-violence, individuals from this network also performed tasks that alleviated the suffering of Egyptian citizens.

When an opposition group in a nation renounces violence, many presume that a period of domestic tranquility will soon follow.  However, peace seldom emerges because there are some figures with ties to the reformed entity who are convinced that attacks must continue.  Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s transformation, certain Islamists in Egypt started to claim that the violent struggle against the government could not end.[18]  These individuals eventually formed new subversive organizations and managed to attract recruits who were amenable to carrying out gruesome attacks.  In a preceding paragraph, it was noted how an operative from the Muslim Brotherhood failed to assassinate Nasser in 1954.  Twenty-seven years after this attack, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, arguably the most formidable extremist group to emerge in the wake of the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, targeted Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor.  The leaders of Islamic Jihad did not approve of the manner in which Sadat maintained secular rule in Egypt following the transfer of power in 1970.  They also objected to a number of moves that he made on the foreign level, including signing a peace deal with Israel and entering into a close partnership with the United States.  As Sadat was watching a parade in Cairo on October 6, 1981, he was killed by a contingent of Egyptian soldiers who were affiliated with Islamic Jihad.

Rather than producing an Islamic theocracy, the attack toward the end of 1981 led to the rise of an individual who was similar to Sadat.  Upon assuming control of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak took steps to ensure that secularism would remain intact.  In addition to this, he elected to honor the terms of the agreement with Israel and maintain the alliance with the U.S.  Policymakers in Washington rewarded him for his loyalty by making Egypt the second leading recipient of American military assistance.[19]  The majority of the aid from the United States was used by Mubarak to fight the violent groups that were present on Egyptian soil.  After Mubarak launched his campaign, networks like Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group were still able to conduct major acts of political violence.  In 1997, the latter carried out an attack that caught the attention of people throughout the globe.  On November 17th, various tours were being given at an archaeological site named Deir el-Bahri.  As Egyptian citizens and tourists from multiple nations were in the process of being impressed by the remarkable items in this location, six militants embarked upon a shooting spree.  By the end of this forty-five minute rampage, sixty-three individuals were dead.  Ironically, thirty-six of these victims were from Switzerland, a nation that is typically associated with peace instead of violence.[20]

After the turn of the century, there were two changes that influenced the ongoing political crisis in Egypt.  One was a noticeable growth in the amount of opposition groups that were calling for the downfall of the government.  These new entities were pushing for the same turn of events as the aforementioned Islamist networks, but an important difference existed between them that should be discussed.  Within the preceding paragraphs, it became quite clear that the Islamist groups were primarily opposed to the regime since it was not receptive to turning Egypt into a theocratic state.  The leaders of the organizations, which were established during the first decade of the twenty-first century, were not upset because Egyptian citizens were being deprived of the opportunity to live under Islamic rule.  Rather, they possessed a number of other concerns, particularly the manner in which people were being deprived of basic political rights by Mubarak and his subordinates.[21]  It will be possible to see how these nascent groups had other grievances if the April 6th Youth Movement is taken into consideration at this juncture.  In the Spring of 2008, the April 6th Youth Movement was formed by Ahmed Maher, Waheed Rashed, Asmaa Mahfouz, Ihab Belal, Wesam Ibraheem, and Husam Farouk.  These individuals mainly attempted to attract supporters in their country by talking about a lack of free speech and other political problems on Facebook, a popular social media site.[22]  By the early portion of 2009, they had already convinced around 70,000 Egyptians to join the April 6th Youth Movement.[23]

The other change, which had an impact on the Egyptian political landscape, was made in the United States.  Earlier in this section, we saw how the American government was a close ally of the Mubarak regime.  During the first decade of the twenty-first century, U.S. officials were still claiming in public that they wanted Mubarak to remain the leader of Egypt.  However, there were multiple developments behind the scenes that indicated these figures in Washington were interested in having him overthrown.  When U.S. policymakers wanted to oust Diem in South Vietnam, they contacted the members of the military.  After the events that transpired in 1952, the Egyptian military had a reputation for orchestrating coups, but representatives from the U.S. did not approach any soldiers about ousting Mubarak.  Instead, they elected to contact some of the opposition groups that had recently surfaced in Egypt, including the April 6th Youth Movement.[24]

If one wants to comprehend why the U.S. altered its policy, one must look closely at a campaign that it had launched on the world stage.  On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by al Qaeda, an Islamist organization that was determined to establish Islamic theocracies in Egypt and several other Muslim nations.  In the immediate aftermath of this act of violence that killed over 3,000 individuals, George W. Bush, the forty third President of the United States, announced that his subordinates would begin to work diligently to weaken al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups.  Many figures in the American government were asked to contribute to the struggle against these Islamist organizations by engaging in activities that were intended to establish democracies in nations where Islamist organizations were attracting a lot of supporters.[25]  At various points in this section, we have seen how radical Islamic networks had a propensity to gain members in Egypt.  It became more difficult for these groups to bring individuals into their ranks when the new organizations began to emerge in the first decade of the twenty-first century.  The leaders of the Islamist entities were cognizant of the manner in which their competitors were securing the approbation of many Egyptians, but they did not know how these groups were secretly communicating with representatives of the U.S. government.  While the discussions between the moderate opposition groups and U.S. officials were in progress, some of the organizations revealed that they would be interested in receiving outside aid in the struggle against the ruling regime.  Upon learning this information, Washington elected to assist these networks by arranging for members to attend seminars for political activists outside of Egypt. For instance, toward the end of 2008, individuals at the American embassy in Cairo helped a member of the April 6th Youth Movement travel to New York to participate in a conference.[26]

When Bush was in the White House, he occasionally delivered speeches to increase public support for the spreading of democracy abroad.  The major way that he tried to convince crowds of people it was prudent for the United States to pursue this policy was by discussing earlier democracy promotion initiatives.  As the president was in the process of speaking to an audience in Washington during his first term, he alluded to how the United States helped other members of the international community bring democratic rule to Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War.[27]  What Bush failed to tell this crowd was that several efforts to establish democratic governments have turned out to be failures.  Over the years, certain analysts have attempted to get this point across to the readers of their publications.  In 2007, Fareed Zakaria, a columnist for Newsweek, wrote a book called The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.  At one point in this study, he concentrates on the political situation in Germany following the First World War.  With the support of countries like the United States, political figures constructed a democratic government, which was referred to as the Weimar Republic.  The Weimar Republic did not last for very long since Adolph Hitler was selected as Chancellor in a free election and proceeded to form a fascist dictatorship in Germany.[28]

If we turn our attention to the events that transpired in Egypt after the United States started to clandestinely help some opposition groups, it will become quite apparent that this initiative deserves to be labeled as another unsuccessful attempt to spread democracy.  For a period of time, it appeared as if this campaign might actually turn out to be a success.  At the beginning of 2011, individuals from the April 6th Youth Movement and other pro-democracy groups occupied Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo.  Through social media and other outlets, these protesters indicated that they wanted Mubarak to step down at once.  Instead of meeting the demand of the demonstrators, Mubarak said in a television address that he would be willing to relinquish control of the government in September.  Upon hearing this announcement from the Egyptian president, the dissidents continued to call for his immediate resignation.  On February 11th, they heard more encouraging news when Omar Suleiman, the Vice President of Egypt, revealed that Mubarak had decided to resign.

In the Spring of 2012, there was another development in Egypt that pleased the dissidents who had contributed to Mubarak’s downfall.  During the months of May and June, numerous Egyptian citizens cast their ballots in a presidential election.  Shortly after the second round of voting was completed, it was announced that Mohamed Morsi would be leading Egypt.  Since Morsi was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, there was speculation that he would seek to have Islam play an influential role in the political process once he was sworn into office.  When Morsi assumed control of the government, he did introduce measures that led some to conclude that the days of secularism in Egypt were numbered.  However, more people were concerned about the manner in which he was making decisions that would enable members of the regime to have more power.  One individual, who directed a lot of criticism towards Morsi for increasing the strength of the government, was Mohamed El Baradei, the leader of the Constitution Party.  On November 22nd, he said Morsi had “usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh.”[29]

Several Egyptians chose to exhibit their disapproval of the Morsi government by relying upon the tactic that was used against the Mubarak regime at the beginning of 2011.  In other words, they elected to hold a rally in the heart of the Egyptian capital.  A year after Morsi became president, thousands of citizens gathered in Tahrir Square to demand his immediate removal from office.  This major demonstration did not prompt the beleaguered leader to step down, but his presidency still came to an end since the members of the military conducted a coup d’etat on July 3rd.  Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the leader of Egypt from Morsi’s ouster to the present, allowed elections to be held in the Spring of 2014.  However, it is not possible to make the claim that this country has started to make the long awaited transition from authoritarianism to democracy while he has been in control because he has also taken some of the same steps as his predecessors, including having security personnel detain many political opponents.[30]     


While the Cold War was in progress, American officials were determined to stop states that were attempting to spread an ideology across the world.  During the campaign against Islamic extremism, policymakers were more concerned about the conduct of organizations which wanted to assume power in various states.  Although different actors were being focused on in these conflicts, the same foreign policy tools were often used to combat them.  In 1948, individuals in Washington thought communists could seize control of the Italian government.  The U.S. primarily attempted to keep this turn of events from transpiring by allocating a considerable amount of economic assistance to the anti-communist contingent that was in power.   After personnel from the government gave supplies to the poor and ravenous citizens of Italy, there was not as much talk about a communist takeover.  At the beginning of the twenty-first century, America wanted the Pakistani government to become a partner in the struggle against Islamic extremists, so it provided this Muslim country with economic assistance.  Once officials in Islamabad came into contact with this aid, they took multiple steps that made it possible for Washington to weaken Islamist networks, including permitting U.S. military personnel to utilize two naval bases and three air force bases.[31]

The allocation of economic assistance often was an asset in the campaigns against communism and Islamic extremism.  However, there were certain foreign policy tools that failed to make it easier for the United States to battle communists and Islamists.  From the material that was presented in the preceding sections of this article, it can be gathered that one of these ineffective tools was the preventive covert regime change operation.  When a preventive operation was performed in South Vietnam during the Cold War, another anti-communist figure was brought to power, but he was not able to keep more citizens from supporting the insurgency that was being led by a communist network.  During the first decade of the twenty-first century, representatives of the U.S. government elected to carry out another preventive mission inside Egypt.  This initiative did not result in the surfacing of a democracy that was controlled by a popular figure who was receptive to cooperating with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic extremism.  Instead, it led to the rise of an individual who attempted to strengthen authoritarian rule and have Islam play a major role in Egyptian politics.

End Notes     

[1] James Callanan, Covert Action in Cold War, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009, p.4.

[2] Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, Rise to Globalism, New York: Penguin Books, 1997, p.138.

[3] Ian Clark, Legitimacy in International Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

[4] Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, p.10.

[5] United States Congress, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1972, p.24.

[6] Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970, p.9.

[7] Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, New York: Macmillan, 2014, p.60.

[8] Gabriel Kolko, Vietnam: Anatomy of a War, 1940-1975, New York: Unwin, 1987, p.89.

[9] Victor Marchetti and John Marks, The Cult of Intelligence, New York: Knopf, 1974, p.123.

[10] Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation, New York: Doubleday, 1967, pp.427-438.

[11] Seth Jacobs, Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950-1963, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006, p.143.

[12] Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New York: Random House, 1988, p.354.

[13] Roger Hilsman, Personal Papers, 1963.

[14] Richard Barnet, Intervention and Revolution, Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1968, p.214.

[15] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, New York: Penguin Books, 1997, pp.352-354.

[16] Stokely Carmichael, Black Power Speech, 1966.

[17] Robin Wright, Sacred Rage: The Crusade of Modern Islam, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985, p.79.

[18] Giles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt, the Prophet and Pharaoh, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p.129.

[19] United Press International, “U.S. Military Aide to Egypt Under Fire,” Washington Times, 29 June 2004.

[20] Alan Cowell, “At a Swiss Airport, 36 Dead, Home from Luxor,” New York Times, 20 November 1997.

[21]Fukuyama, p.542.

[22] Samantha Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” New York Times, 22 January 2009.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Timothy Ross, Matthew Moore, and Steven Swinford, “Egypt Protests: America’s Secret Backing for Rebel Leaders Behind Uprising,” Daily Telegraph, 28 January 2011.

[25] Gregory Gause, Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?, Foreign Affairs, 2005.

[26] Ross, Moore, and Swinford, op. cit.

[27] George W. Bush, Washington Address to the National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003.

[28] Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007, p.17.

[29] Mohamed El Baradei, Comments about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, 22 November 2012.

[30] Jeremy Bowen, “Egyptian Election: Sisi Secures Landslide Win,” BBC News, 29 May 2014.

[31] Touqir Hussain, U.S.-Pakistan Engagement: The War on Terrorism and Beyond, The United States Institute of , 2005, p.6.


About the Author(s)

Jason Cooley holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Connecticut.  He teaches courses about American politics at the University of Hartford and Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut.  His research interests include transnational revolutionary organizations, American foreign policy, and covert action.