'TROOPS IN the Philippines have rescued a kidnapped Italian priest who had been held on the southern island of Mindanao for six months. He was kidnapped in October by a gang of bandits called the Pentagon Gang. The military says the group is mainly made up of former members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Philippine President Arroyo said Father Pierantoni's rescue was a big step towards achieving peace in the troubled southern Philippines. ' 'Give them no quarter. Annihilate these criminal gangs. I appeal to the people, to our Muslim brothers, to help us end this scourge of kidnapping,' she said.'
I read that report on BBC News online in April 2002. I've recently become a collector of calls for what has been termed 'regime change'.
Everyone knows about Iraq, and about George W Bush's call for the Palestinians to replace Yasser Arafat. Readers of the Times know of Ariel Sharon's recent interview calling for the toppling of the Iranian government. Ted Galen-Carpenter, a vice-president of the US's right wing Cato Institute, gave a remarkable interview on the BBC World Service just after the Bali bombing, stating that Indonesia had been slow to adopt anti-terrorism measures urged upon it by the US.
'At some point,' he said, 'if the Megawati government is not sufficiently cooperative, the US would start to talk to elements within the Indonesian military and see if the government could be replaced with one that could be more cooperative and more accommodating.'
It would be a double irony if the US did sponsor a coup against Megawati, as readers will recall that they did something similar to her father in 1965. You may object that these people aren't government officials. But they clearly have the ear of the administration. They're part of what you might call a wider 'Pentagon Gang'.
But the enthusiasm for regime change isn't confined to the right wing. Christopher Hitchens recently appeared on a documentary on Channel 4 to argue in favour of war on Iraq, on the basis that it would provoke a crisis in Saudi Arabia that would topple the ruling family there.
Similarly, the moderate Republican senator John McCain in an article in Time magazine, advocated pre-emptive war against Iraq, and that 'change must also come to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and wherever nations are ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many.' British left wingers should be wary of these superficially appealing sentiments. A century ago the German writer August Bebel wrote of anti-Semitism as 'the socialism of fools'.
Now we have 'the egalitarianism of fools'-a legitimate dislike of authoritarian, partriarchal or hierarchical societies that's harnessed to the rather less idealistic interests of US oil policy.
Galen-Carpenter's comments show one reason why Hitchens is wrong-democracy wouldn't necessarily mean that countries would fulfil Washington's agenda. At some point, a conflict between competing priorities would arise: democracy and US national interest. Then what would happen?
Just ask Chavez in Venezuela. US diplomats appear to have been in on the plot when, earlier this year, his military tried to overthrow his democratically-elected government. An early, and happily unsuccessful, instance of regime change.