In foreign policy, destabilization is the process by which one government attempts to seriously weaken another -- usually by creating internal unrest. The process of destabilization may be either overt or covert; economic, militarily, or political. The goal is either to seek a regime change, to force an adversary into a weaker position, or to keep one in a weakened position.

Throughout the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union instigated or exacerbated civil wars in Third World countries. The result was that most of these countries could never achieve stable and effective civil governments. Those that were sympathetic to the West were destabilized by Russia, and those sympathetic to the East were destabilized by the U.S. and its allies.

In the Middle East, with its vast oil resources, the United States has followed a decades long foreign policy of seeking stability - fearing a disruption in the flow of oil. This has led to the U.S. supporting autocratic dictators and repressive monarchies while turning a blind eye to their abuses and excesses.

At the end of the Gulf War President George H. W. Bush declined to send U.S. troops all the way to Baghdad in the interests of regional stability. He believed the power vacuum that would have been created by removing Saddam Hussein was a greater threat to Iraq's neighbors than leaving a weakened Saddam in power.1

But starting in the mid-1980's a growing ideological movement in the West held that Pan-Arab instability was of greater benefit to Israel than stable Arab regimes that "tolerated" the Jewish state (i.e., Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, et al).

Starting in Israel, this philosophy spread to the United States where it found strange bedfellows in the Democratic pro-Israeli lobby and the Republican Christian evangelicals. The movement grew in numbers throughout the 1990's and - with the annointing of George W. Bush as President - in 2000 saw many of its adherents gain influence over American policy.

Their belief is that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East and that for too long we have "appeased" the Arab states. The initial effects of their influence could be seen in George W. Bush's disengagement from the Palestinian conflict. Israel was allowed to destroy the Palestinian Authority and esentially end any Palestinian hopes for autonomy and self-rule. The unrest (destabilization) this caused in Arab states was not considered a liability - but a plus.

The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the resulting bombing of Afghanistan also fall in line - again increasing instability in Arab regimes as they were forced to "be with us or against us." Meanwhile we removed an unfriendly regime in Afghanistan and replaced it with an - albeit weak - friendly puppet government.

Now, as the U.S. begins its second war on Iraq, the change in policy becomes clear. No longer is the U.S. worried about even going through the motions of a United Nations or regional coalition. The implications for Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are no longer policy concerns. Their destabilization, the likelihood that several of these governments will fall, is now considered an opportunity rather than a detriment.

And what of the all-important oil fields? The new policy is: If the oil fields are threatened, we'll simply seize them.


1: An interesting question is why the U.S. decided that Saddam Hussein was no longer useful and decided to attack Iraq in the Gulf War. His invasion of Kuwait was nothing more than a pretext. Hussein had been a generally compliant tool and extremely useful in destabilizing Iran. No serious scholarship exists on the subject of why the decision to weaken Iraq was made.