During the early years of the twenty-first century, the United States has relied upon many measures in the struggle against Islamic extremist organizations. Much has been written about the initiatives that came into existence after the damaging attacks in September 2001. However, less attention has been paid to the actions American presidential administrations had previously used during the campaign against communism. This article will focus on America’s continued dependence on covert regime change operations. While clandestine missions are being taken into consideration, the article will show how the successor regimes from the Cold War and the War on Terror did not possess the same shortcomings. The main weakness of the governments from the Cold War is that they did not provide citizens with opportunities to hold them accountable. Meanwhile, the major flaw of the ones from the War on Terror is an inability to preserve internal stability.         



Over the course of his eight years in office, George W. Bush made several choices that proved to be dangerous for the United States. Of them all, the most damaging was the 2003 decision to invade Iraq. When this operation commenced, Bush asserted that it was a necessity, since Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, was producing weapons of mass destruction. After inspectors failed to uncover any weapons, Bush was accused of presenting inaccurate information to the American public. While perusing the pages of Bush’s memoir, it becomes apparent that he continued to disseminate misleading content following his departure from the White House after his term ended in January 2009.  As Bush discusses the campaign against Islamic extremists in Decision Points, he informs the reader that he thought he was following in the footsteps of Harry Truman. Towards the end of the 1940s, Truman introduced various measures that were intended to keep Soviet influence from spreading in the world.  Once Truman left Washington, other presidents elected to depend on some of his measures as they dealt with the Cold War. At the beginning of the War on Terror, Bush recognized that it would not be possible for the United States to completely eliminate the Islamist threat by the time his presidency came to an end. Consequently, he worked to turn his “tools” for fighting extremist groups “into institutions and laws that would be available to” his “successors.”[1]

It cannot be denied that Bush created new initiatives for weakening Islamist entities between 2001 and 2009.  What he fails to mention inside Decision Points, though, is the manner in which he and his successors also utilized some measures that were set forth during the Cold War in the effort against Islamic extremism, including covert regime change operations. We can see how the covert regime change operations were used during both the Cold War and War on Terror by examining a 1953 mission in Iran and a 2011 initiative in Libya. By analyzing these cases, it becomes evident that the regimes which came to power during the Cold War and the War on Terror had different deficiencies. On one hand, the regimes from the Cold War did not encourage democratic accountability. On the other, the governments from the War on Terror were unable to maintain order inside their borders.

Intervention in Iran during the Cold War

The material from Decision Points that was alluded to in the preceding section is important for another reason. Besides establishing George W. Bush’s mindset at the beginning of the struggle against Islamist networks, it shows us the way that a particular measure can end up being used by presidents for decades. If a measure is to stand the test of time, legislation will need to be approved by the legislative and executive branches.[2]  The validity of this point can be seen by closely examining the act that has enabled numerous chief executives to conduct covert regime change operations during the Cold War and the War on Terror. When the Cold War commenced, many figures in Washington believed that the intelligence collection capabilities of the American government were poor. In order to eliminate this weakness, the Central Intelligence Agency was formed with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947.  Within this act, legislators set forth multiple duties that the employees of the new intelligence agency were expected to perform. Among them was that Agency personnel should perform “such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.”[3]  This portion of the National Security Act of 1947 was widely interpreted as the sanctioning of covert operations that had the potential to overthrow unappealing regimes in other nations.

The first American president to use the above clause in the National Security Act of 1947 to his advantage was Harry Truman. While he was in control of the executive branch, Truman had American covert operators execute several clandestine missions, including one in the Eastern European nation of Albania at the end of the 1940s.[4]  Although Truman exhibited an affinity for covert regime change operations, there were some missions that he appeared unwilling to authorize. The most important in relation to this discussion is the effort to topple the regime that was controlling Iran. At the beginning of the 1950s, various figures inside the CIA began to talk about bringing a new government to power in Tehran, but these individuals were reluctant to approach the White House about this matter because they believed there was “no chance to win approval from the outgoing administration of Truman and Acheson.”[5]

The preceding quote appeared in a book called CounterCoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran. Within this same publication, Kermit Roosevelt, a CIA operative in Iran, reveals there was a belief at the Agency that the incoming administration “might be quite different” when it came to the issue of taking action in Tehran.[6]  After the transfer of power on January 20, 1953, Dwight Eisenhower’s administration instructed the CIA to launch a clandestine initiative to remove the Iranian government from power.  Before this operation is examined, it would be useful to explain why Eisenhower was amenable to overthrowing the leader of Iran.  At this point in time, a number of leaders in the developing world were not interested in being involved in the power struggle between the capitalist and communist blocs.  Instead, they were more concerned about keeping outsiders from infringing upon the sovereignty of their respective states.  It was widely believed that Mohammad Mossadegh was one of these nationalists, but Eisenhower was convinced that the Iranian Prime Minister was really a communist who intended to have his country become a part of the communist bloc. The remarks of an official from the British government can enable us to see just how concerned Eisenhower was about the situation in Tehran.  During a meeting, Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Minister, informed Winston Churchill that Eisenhower “seemed to be obsessed by the fear of a communist Iran.”[7]

In addition to wanting to keep Iran from becoming a close ally of the Soviet Union, Eisenhower wanted to make it possible for American businesses to benefit from the oil production. Under previous leaders, Western companies had been able to profit from the production of Iranian oil. However, when Mossadegh came to power in 1951, he was determined to have the government assume control of the pumping, refining, and shipping of oil. During the spring of 1951, the Prime Minister presented a bill that called for the nationalization of the oil industry. Shortly after this legislation was introduced, it was approved and Western companies were no longer allowed to play a role in the production of oil.[8]   

In order for an American covert regime change operation to be successfully executed, there must be individuals in a target country who are receptive to cooperating with clandestine operatives from the United States. The type of cooperation that takes place is determined by whether the assets are situated inside or outside the government which U.S. policymakers find unappealing. If the assets are not associated with the regime, CIA agents or operatives from another department in the U.S. government will help them conduct a paramilitary operation, an electoral interference campaign or a political action mission. The first involves personnel providing weapons and training to citizens who are interested in overthrowing political leaders with an armed struggle.[9]  The second entails operatives working with a challenger who is eager to defeat an incumbent in an upcoming election. The third consists of agents allocating financial assistance to dissidents who would like to see government officials removed from power with protests, boycotts, or some other non-violent tactic.[10]  Should the assets be located inside the government, the only viable option that the clandestine operators have is to help their allies carry out a coup d’état.

When Eisenhower wanted to oust Mossadegh in the 1950s, there were not many individuals outside the Iranian government who were amenable to cooperating with operatives such as Kermit Roosevelt. Consequently, it was not possible for the thirty-forth American president to order the execution of a paramilitary operation, an electoral interference campaign or a political action initiative.  While it was difficult to find assets outside the corridors of power in Tehran, Roosevelt and others were able to locate insiders who were willing to participate in a coup. Out of all of these assets, it is safe to say that the most important were figures in the Iranian military. After all, history is filled with episodes that indicate a coup can only succeed with support from the armed forces. During 1999, Nawaz Sharif was forced to relinquish control of the Pakistani government after members of the military opted to back a coup. Approximately, three years later, some officials within the Venezuelan government tried to bring an end to the presidency of Hugo Chavez, but this plot ultimately failed because the socialist leader maintained the backing of important figures in the military.   

Before the contribution of these military assets can be examined, we must discuss the role that the CIA’s main political asset played in the campaign against Mossadegh.  For a period of time, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was quite influential within Iran. Once Mossadegh became prime minister, though, there was a noticeable decline in his power. Within a secret report, one department in the American government even acknowledged that the Shah was no longer capable “of independent action.”[11]  During the summer of 1953, CIA personnel arranged meetings with the Shah to see if he would be interested in participating in an initiative that could potentially lead to him regaining his power inside Iran. When Norman Schwarzkopf met with the Shah in July, he tried to convince him to issue an order calling for Mossadegh’s dismissal. After the meeting transpired, the requested order was never issued, so Kermit Roosevelt was asked by policymakers in Washington to speak to the Shah in early August.[12]  In hindsight, one can assert that Roosevelt was a far more persuasive figure than Schwarzkopf because the Shah went on to issue an order in the immediate aftermath of the August meetings.

By the middle of August, the military assets began to partake in the CIA’s operation to overthrow Mossadegh.  On August 15th, Colonel Nematollah Nassiri instructed soldiers to arrest some of Mossadegh’s supporters in the Iranian government. When General Taghi Riahi, Mossadegh’s Chief of Staff, learned of Nassiri’s actions, he took steps that prevented the plotters from accomplishing their objective, including having a contingent of soldiers surround the Prime Minister’s residence.[13]  Roosevelt and others were disappointed that Mossadegh was able to remain in office, but they continued to work behind the scenes to isolate the Prime Minister. The developments on the 15thindicated that an inadequate number of troops had originally been recruited by the CIA. Consequently, operatives spent a lot of their time securing the support of additional soldiers from the Iranian military. Once more troops exhibited a willingness to cooperate with the Agency, an attack was launched on the Prime Minister’s home. Although General Riahi led another effort to keep Mossadegh from being ousted, the Prime Minister still had to relinquish control of the government since the military units associated with the CIA took over Tehran and other key cities in the country.[14]

Now that the execution of the coup d’état in Iran has been addressed, we can begin to examine the successor regime that was led by the Shah. Inside Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, Francis Fukuyama asserts that a strong state and methods for promoting democratic accountability can help a country function more efficiently. By a strong state, he means “a central authority that can exercise a monopoly of legitimate force over its territory to keep the peace and enforce the law.”[15] When he speaks of the latter, he is referring to opportunities that allow citizens to make sure those in power are responding to their preferences.[16]  Within the remaining paragraphs of this section, it will become evident that the Shah developed formidable institutions that possessed the capacity to preserve peace, but he did not provide Iranian citizens with chances to hold his government accountable.

During the twentieth century, Robert Dahl devoted a considerable amount of time to studying nations with political systems that were designed to hold government officials accountable. Within one of his books, he claims that this type of system cannot exist without public contestation and participation.[17]If the former is going to be present, citizens must be allowed to form opposition parties and compete with the members of the ruling party to fill openings in the legislative and executive branches. In order for the latter to be prevalent, figures from the government need to permit free and fair elections to be held periodically.  Under the Shah, opposition parties and legitimate elections were difficult to find in Iran. In 1960, he  allowed parliamentary elections to be held in July and August.[18]  However, this turn of events cannot be looked at as genuine public participation in Iran since there were numerous reports of the elections being rigged by individuals working on behalf of the Shah.  Prior to the coup in 1953, multiple opposition parties were allowed to operate without government harassment.  Following this development, though, the supporters of opposition parties started to be targeted by the security services, especially Tudeh.  As early as November 1953, the military was taking steps to weaken this left-wing party inside Iran.[19]

Once an authoritarian regime limits the opportunities to impact the political process, citizens really have no alternative but to organize a major resistance campaign.  While a campaign is in progress, it is common for instability to surface in areas with large populations.  The amount of instability that emerges during a campaign is largely determined by the skill level of the figures inside the military, police forces, and other departments from the government’s security apparatus. If the majority of the individuals from the security services are incompetent, the amount of instability within the country will likely be high. On the other hand, if the security services are dominated by capable people, the amount of instability inside the nation will probably be low. 

As one examines the resistance campaign that developed in Iran under the Shah, one becomes cognizant of the manner in which his security services were staffed with qualified figures. Out of all of the departments in the Iranian security apparatus, the ones, which the Shan relied upon the most, were the military and the National Information and Security Organization or SAVAK. When unrest surfaced in the streets of Tehran in June 1963, the Shah instructed the former to restore order. By the time order was restored in the Iranian capital, approximately 1,000 civilians had been killed.[20]  Some of the opposition groups attempted to generate political change by performing terrorist attacks in different parts of Iran. Between 1970 and 1978, only thirty-four attacks were executed by operatives from dissident groups.[21]  In order to understand why the number of attacks remained so low during this period, it is necessary to take the conduct of SAVAK into consideration. During the 1970s, this intelligence agency constructed a network of around three million informants, so it uncovered and disrupted planned attacks quite frequently. Although the leaders of SAVAK did receive a lot of useful intelligence from these informants, it should be acknowledged that they also used unsavory tactics to collect pertinent information. Within Iran: Dictatorship and Development, Fred Halliday alludes to how there were times when personnel from the intelligence service even tortured prisoners who were being held in Iranian prisons.[22]


American Intervention in Libya in 2011

At a White House ceremony in 1954, Eisenhower presented Kermit Roosevelt with the National Security Award for the conduct had helped keep American citizens safe.[23]  In the decades that followed, some of Eisenhower’s Cold War successors were not as eager to give personnel from the Agency this prestigious award. Instead, they were more interested in subjecting CIA employees to a considerable amount of criticism. One went so far as to say that he would like to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind.”[24]If an individual wants to understand why Eisenhower’s successors were so critical of the CIA, he or she has to look at the outcomes of America’s covert regime change operations. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were times when the CIA managed to topple unappealing regimes abroad. However, these successes did not attract much attention because the Agency was also involved in ignominious failures such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. In addition to producing many disparaging remarks about the CIA, these experiences led lawmakers in Washington to alter the way that American clandestine regime change operations were performed overseas.  For many years, covert initiatives just commenced with presidents passing along orders to their subordinates at the CIA. Once the Hughes-Ryan Amendment was attached to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, though, initiating surreptitious missions became more complicated for U.S. presidents. Besides instructing figures at the Agency to begin certain initiatives, presidents had to notify legislators about them by submitting “findings” to Congress.[25]

When the Cold War came to an end in 1991, the Hughes-Ryan Amendment was not repealed.  Consequently, the presidents who handled the American campaign against Islamic extremist organizations also had to send findings to members of Congress. The most important in relation to this discussion is the one that Barack Obama submitted in 2011 as instability was increasing inside Libya. Within this document, Obama informed Senators and Representatives that he intended to have American operatives provide aid to rebels who were in the process of fighting a war against the government of Moammar Gadhafi.[26]  In other words, he told them that personnel from the United States would be carrying out a paramilitary operation in this North African nation.  

Before the execution of this paramilitary operation is discussed, we need to identify what could be gained from the intervention in Libya. Around the time reports began to circulate that CIA operatives were inside Libya, Obama claimed the he was “answering the calls of threatened people” and “acting in the interests of the United States and the world.”[27]From these comments, it can be gathered that Obama was attempting to achieve two objectives while the Libyan campaign was in progress. One was to keep the Libyan people from being killed by the forces that were affiliated with the Gadhafi regime. The other was to advance interests that were deemed to be important by the U.S. and its allies. Because the president’s comments were so brief, one can only speculate about what interests could be advanced in 2011. It is safe to say that the initiative in Libya had the potential to bolster the pivotal campaign against Islamic extremist organizations. After Gadhafi came to power in 1969, he became known as a proponent of terrorism. When he was not inviting terrorist organizations to use Libyan territory to train operatives for attacks, he was instructing personnel from his government to perform operations in other nations.[28]The Libyan regime’s most damaging attack came towards the end of the 1980s when a bomb killed 259 passengers on a Pan Am plane that was traveling from London to New York City.

During the early portion of the twenty-first century, Gadhafi worked assiduously to improve his image on the world stage. For years, many nations insisted that the Libyan government should give money to those who lost loved ones in the bombing of the Pan Am plane. In 2008, Gadhafi finally decided to allocate over 1.5 billion dollars to the families of the victims.[29]Not only did Gadhafi provide compensation to people who had been impacted by his most damaging terrorist attack, he presented himself as a leader who was interested in assisting the U.S government in its struggle against Islamist entities. Following the 9/11 attacks, officials in Washington were determined to detain individuals who were either in the process of planning other attacks or knew about imminent attacks. It was not possible to achieve this objective in a unilateral fashion, so American personnel had to turn to figures from other governments for help. Personnel from the Libyan regime eventually participated in this effort by detaining terror suspects in Tripoli and other locations. Some suggested this cooperation between the American and Libyan governments was a sign that Gadhafi had turned over a new leaf, but it was inappropriate to arrive at such a conclusion because the Libyan dictator was simultaneously working with operatives from al Qaeda, the most formidable Islamist group in the world at the time.[30]  Since this partnership existed, it is clear an intervention in Libya could help bring a new government to power that would be a genuine supporter of the American campaign against Islamist groups.    

With the potential benefits of intervening now identified, attention can be paid to the execution of the paramilitary operation. Inside Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences, Alexander George and Andrew Bennett allude to how many researchers attempt to ascertain whether intervening factors are impacting the behavior of actors in the political realm. According to these individuals, it is appropriate to make a case for influence if a change can be detected in a particular actor’s conduct once the intervening factor has been introduced.[31]  This turn of events has been known to take place when paramilitary operations are in progress. Towards the end of the 1970s, the Soviet Union sent numerous soldiers into Afghanistan to keep a communist government from being toppled. Soon after the invasion, Islamic extremists arrived in Afghanistan to participate in a resistance campaign that had been organized by indigenous elements. At first, the foreign and Afghan fighters did not encounter much success in their battles against Soviet military personnel. Once they received Stinger missiles from the CIA in the middle of the 1980s, though, they experienced many victories on the battlefield and Moscow elected to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. In the case of Afghanistan, covert assistance improved the performance of a contingent of rebels, but one must keep in mind that outside aid does not always generate the desired effect. During the 1950s, the left-leaning government of Indonesia had to contend with an insurgency led by anti-communist rebels.  As the decade was coming to an end, officials in Washington instructed the CIA to allocate weapons and other supplies to the Indonesian rebels.[32]  Following the distribution of this clandestine assistance, the performance of the insurgents on the battlefield did not improve, so the members of the Indonesian government were able to remain in power.

While examining the Libyan case, one finds that it is akin to the Afghan one. In other words, there was a noticeable improvement in the performance of the rebels once they came into contact with clandestine assistance. During the early portion of 2011, insurgents worked diligently to take control of towns and cities throughout Libya. However, the majority of their offensives at this juncture were repelled by forces that were aligned with the Gadhafi government. When a substantial amount of machine guns, automatic rifles, and ammunition from the U.S. and its Arab allies arrived in the summer, the rebels were finally able to make some progress.[33]  At the beginning of August, the opposition pushed Gadhafi supporters out of Bar al-Ghanam. Emboldened by this triumph, they then moved to the outskirts of other key towns in the Western portion of the country, including Zawiya.

Although the seizing of land in western Libya was a step in the right direction, it cannot be labeled as the most important development following the introduction of weapons shipments. Within the highly acclaimed Political Order in Changing Societies, Samuel Huntington asserts that there are two ways a revolutionary campaign can unfold inside a nation. When a “western” revolution is in progress, opponents of the status quo seize the capital city and gain control of towns in the countryside at a later date.[34]During an “eastern” revolution, the resistance campaign commences with the taking of towns in the countryside and culminates with the seizure of the capital.[35]  It is appropriate to label the rebellion in Libya as an “eastern” revolution.  After all, as we have seen, the insurgents initially acquired territory outside the capital city. If we want to identify the culmination of this movement, we have to look closely at the end of August 2011. Towards the end of this month, rebel forces stormed into Tripoli with the intention of finding Moammar Gadhafi, but the dictator could not be located in the Libyan capital. It would be approximately two more months before Gadhafi was found in his hometown of Sirte.[36]  The rebels could have mollified the members of the international community by apprehending the deposed leader.  However, they chose to kill him in a gruesome fashion.

Before events in post-Gadhafi Libya are taken into consideration, we should devote some attention to another intervening factor that enabled the rebels to succeed. As military supplies were being allocated to fighters, the U.S. had operatives in secret locations flying drones over battlefields across Libya. When the drones were not taking reconnaissance photographs, they were firing missiles at the members of Gadhafi’s army so it would be easier for rebel advances to transpire. These drones fired some missiles, but other aircraft provided far more assistance to the rebels. Over a period of five months, North Atlantic Treaty Organization planes attacked Gadhafi’s forces 7500 times.[37]  American drones, on the other hand, only conducted strikes on 84 occasions.[38]

Within the preceding section, it was noted how public participation and contestation were not permitted in Iran following the coup d’état in 1953. While examining the political landscape in Libya after the downfall of Gadhafi, it becomes apparent that this problem was not prevalent.[39]  A good example of public participation can be found as one analyzes the parliamentary elections that were held in 2012. When this event took place in the summer, the new government did not limit the amount of citizens who could cast their votes, so there were long lines at polling centers across the country. In the capital city, the lines actually began to form over an hour before the polling centers were scheduled to open.[40]  If the options that these voters had to choose from in the summer of 2012 are taken into consideration, it will be possible to notice how public contestation was present in Libya after the uprising. Under Gadhafi, political parties were not given the opportunity to function inside Libya.  However, once he was out of the picture, parties were finally permitted to operate freely. It can be said that the members of most of the parties took advantage of this opportunity because when citizens arrived at polling centers in 2012 they were able to choose from several options, including the National Forces Alliance, the Justice and Construction Party, the National Front Party, the Union for the Homeland, the Wadi Al-Hayah Party, and the National Centrist Party.

Before the election in the summer of 2012, interim Prime Ministers had trouble maintaining order inside Libya. Following it, a lack of security continued to be a problem for Ali Zeidan, who was abducted by armed militants just months after becoming the first popularly elected Prime Minister of Libya. Zeidan’s successors did not have to deal with the trauma of being kidnapped, but they were forced to witness the further deterioration of order within their nation. This decline can be noticed if we rely upon the same standards that were utilized in the preceding section. While the security situation in Iran under the Shah was being taken into consideration, it was mentioned how personnel from the military were able to regain control of areas which had been seized by subversive elements. As one examines the situation in Libya following the ouster of Gadhafi, one does not come across many instances of security personnel pushing militant groups out of towns and cities. Instead, one consistently encounters episodes where the members of opposition networks managed to repel government offensives without much difficulty. One location, which experienced a failed government assault, was Gadhafi’s hometown. In 2014, an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gained control of Sirte. Two years later, fighters with ties to the government initiated a campaign to retake Sirte.  However, by the end of this offensive, there were various parts of Sirte where members of the Islamic State’s Libyan branch were still active.[41]Towards the end of the discussion about the security conditions in Iran, attention was paid to the manner in which a notable increase in terrorist attacks could not be found in this Middle Eastern country during the 1970s. If some figures for Libya are taken into consideration, it will become apparent that this nation experienced an alarming rise in terrorist operations once Gadhafi was no longer in power.  Between 1979 and 2008, there were a total of sixteen terrorist attacks inside Libya.[42]  In 2014, just three years after the downfall of Gadhafi, Libya experienced 707 attacks.[43]

In order to identify the reason why Libya became so unstable, it is necessary to examine the bureaucracy that prime ministers such as Zeidan had underneath them. When Gadhafi was in control of Libya, departments like the intelligence services were quite effective.[44]However, while the revolution was in progress, these important institutions were weakened considerably by the defection of key personnel, a loss of weapons and ammunition, and so forth.[45]If Libya’s security apparatus had been in better shape in the post-Gadhafi era, it is likely the prime ministers would have been able to establish the secure environment that the democratic government of Indonesia did in the early portion of the twenty-first century. Between 2006 and 2014, this Muslim nation just experienced five terrorist attacks since intelligence and law enforcement agencies were staffed with competent figures.[46]



While the War on Terrorism has been in progress, American officials have been utilizing some of the same tools that were used during the Cold War. Within this article, attention was devoted to the American reliance on covert regime change operations. As the coup d’état in Iran was being taken into consideration in the second section, we had the opportunity to see the manner in which Washington’s Cold War operations usually resulted in the establishment of regimes that possessed a major strength and weakness. The strength of the successor regimes was that they exhibited the capacity to maintain order inside their respective territories, while their shortcoming was the way that they did not allow citizens to hold them accountable. Inside the third section, the analysis of the paramilitary operation in Libya demonstrated that America’s clandestine initiatives during the War on Terror have tended to produce the opposite of their Cold War predecessors. In other words, this examination showed that the missions from the campaign against Islamic extremist organizations have predominately led to the emergence of governments which encourage democratic accountability, but do not possess the ability to preserve order.

With ISIS and al Qaeda still carrying out deadly attacks across the world, it is quite clear that the end of the War on Terror is not imminent. As this conflict continues, American policymakers will probably choose to conduct other covert regime change operations.  When these missions are launched, it will be advantageous for officials to refrain from having them consist of the training and arming of rebels. After all, Libya and the other paramilitary operations in Afghanistan and Syria did not turn out to be very successful. If paramilitary operations are eliminated from consideration, policymakers will be left with the three other kinds of covert regime change missions that were introduced earlier in this paper. That is, they will be able to initiate political action missions, electoral interference campaigns, or coup d’états. It is unlikely political action operations will generate favorable outcomes because an earlier initiative inside Egypt produced a regime that was unwilling to cooperate with the United States in the struggle against Islamist networks. As for the second option, one cannot help but be enticed by it since recent electoral interference efforts have been beneficial for Moscow, but interfering in elections is not a viable option for American officials since the majority of the regimes that they would like to overthrow in the Muslim World do not allow citizens to vote periodically. Having read about the coup d’état in Iran, the reader is probably reluctant to endorse the idea of conducting coups during the War on Terror. However, the result of another Cold War era coup, which did not entail CIA involvement, may make him or her reconsider. Towards the end of the 1960s, the dictator Marcello Caetano took control of Portugal.  During the middle part of the 1970s, the Caetano regime was toppled by members of the Portuguese military.  In the aftermath of this turn of events, a democratic government was established in Lisbon.[47]Unlike the democratic government that came to power inside Libya in 2011, this regime went on to maintain stability within its borders.       


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.



[1]George W. Bush, Decision Points(New York, Crown Publishers, 2010), pp.174-175.


[3]National Security Act, 1947.

[4]John Prados, Safe for Democracy(New York, Ivan R. Dee, 2006), p.59.

[5]Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup:The Struggle for the Control of Iran(New York, McGraw-Hill, 1979), p.107.


[7]Anthony Eden, Comments Made in a Meeting with Winston Churchill, 1953.

[8]Prados, p.99.

[9]Gregory Treverton, Covert Action(New York, Basic Books, 1987), p.13.


[11]U.S. State Department, Secret Report about the Political Situation in Iran, 1953.

[12]Prados, p.104.

[13]Ibid., p.105.

[14]Ibid., p.106.

[15]Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy(New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), p.3.

[16]Ibid., p.24.

[17]Robert Dahl, Polyarchy(New Haven, Yale University Press, 1971), pp.13-14.

[18]Fred Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development(New York, Penguin, 1979), p.27.

[19]William Blum, Killing Hope(Monroe, Common Courage Press, 2004), p.72.

[20]Halliday, p.76.

[21]Rand Database of Worldwide Terrorist Incidents, Number of Terrorist Attacks in Iran from 1970 to 1978.

[22]Halliday, p.84.

[23]Prados, p.97.

[24]John Kennedy, Comments about the CIA in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs Fiasco, 1961.

[25]Treverton, pp.154-155.

[26]The Telegraph, “Libya: Barack Obama Signed Order for CIA to Help Rebels,” March 30, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8417399/Libya-Barack-Obama-signed-order-for-CIA-to-help-rebels.html

[27]Barack Obama, Remarks about the American Intervention in Libya, 2011.

[28]Yehudit Ronen, Qaddafi’s Libya in World Politics(Boulder, Lynne Reiner, 2008), pp.32-34.

[29]Matthew Weaver, “Families of Lockerbie Bombing Victims Receive Compensation from Libya,” The Guardian, November 21, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/nov/21/lockerbie-libya

[30]Patrick Tyler, “Two Said to Tell of Libyan Plot Against Saudi,” The New York Times, June 10, 2004, https://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/10/world/two-said-to-tell-of-libyan-plot-against-saudi.html

[31]Alexander George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences(Boston, The MIT Press, 2005), p.137.

[32]Arthur Schlesinger, The Cycles of American History(Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986), p.396.

[33]James Risen, Mark Mazzetti, and Michael Schmidt, “U.S.-Approved Arms for Libyan Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands,” The New York Times, December 5, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/africa/weapons-sent-to-libyan-rebels-with-us-approval-fell-into-islamist-hands.html

[34]Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies(New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006), pp.266-268.


[36]Damien McElroy, “Colonel Gadhafi Died after Being Stabbed with Bayonet,” The Telegraph, October 17, 2012, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/9613394/Colonel-Gaddafi-died-after-being-stabbed-with-bayonet-says-report.html

[37]Lolita Baldor and Slobodan Lekic, “Covert Teams from US, NATO Boost Rebel Forces,” Associated Press, August 22, 2011, www.nbcnews.com/id/44234613/ns/world-news-mideast-n-africa/t/covert-teams-us-nato-boost-rebel-forces/#.wzqws9JKiM8


[39]Dahl, pp.13-14.

[40]Associated Press, “Libyans Vote in First Election Since Gaddafi’s Downfall,” The Guardian, July 7, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/07/libyans-vote-first-election-gaddafi

[41]Samuel Osborne, “Libyan Suicide Attack: Dual Car Bombing Kills at least 10 in Former ISIS-Stronghold Sirte,” The Independent, August 18, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/suicide-car-bomb-attack-sirte-libya-latest-updates-news-a7197481.html

[42]Global Terrorism Database, Amount of Terrorist Attacks in Libya between 1979 and 2008.

[43]Ibid., Amount of Terrorist Attacks inside Libya in 2014. 

[44]Michael Morell, The Great War of Our Time(New York, Twelve, 2015), p.190.

[45]Ibid., p.194.

[46]Ibid., p.320.

[47]Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave(Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), pp.3-4.