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Regime Change

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“'It was assumed that the dramatic ouster of Saddam would create a “Wizard Of Oz moment” in Iraq', recalled Carl Strock, the two-star general from the Army Corps of Engineers … After the wicked dictator was deposed, throngs of cheering Iraqis would hail their liberators and go back to work under [American] tutelage … It was, Strock acknowledged, a ‘simplistic approach’. But, simplistic or not, the strategy had been embraced by the White House.”
Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, Cobra II

Every so often, the leadership of one country will decide that it doesn't like the leadership of another country. Perhaps there's a longstanding feud between the two leaders, perhaps one wants to take over the other but not look like it, or perhaps the leader of the latter country is bent on causing trouble. Whatever the reason, the first country wants the leadership gone.

Enter Regime Change. The term became popularized during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has long been a part of international politics. It can come in different forms:

  1. A foreign invasion that removes the current government and installs a new one, likely a Government in Exile.
  2. The Coup if it includes support or initiation from a foreign power.
  3. Decapitation Strike
  4. Nefariously manipulating a country's political system: fixing elections, creating a scandal, coercing a resignation through blackmail, etc.

Those establishing and supporting regime change often see it as overthrowing an Evil Overlord and serving the cause of Slave Liberation. They expect La Résistance to greet them as liberators and may even be collaborating with them prior to invasion. Those fighting may have to earn their happy ending, but it will be worth it. And since the story is likely to end with an assumption of Happily Ever After, there will be little need to consider what would happen next. The historical Trope Codifier is Allied victory in World War II, and most positive fictional stories about regime change since then are implicitly modeled after it.

Those opposing regime change will see it differently. In this case, those imposing regime change are either an invading army from The Empire or a Greater-Scope Villain pulling the political strings from far away. Even when good-intentioned, regime change will likely include endangering and killing Innocent Bystanders. The newly installed regime will be viewed as The Quisling, aided by Les Collaborateurs and abetted by Apathetic Citizens. Rather than working with the foreign power, La Résistance is, well, resisting and demanding the Occupiers Out of Our Country. Given that, the occupation will likely become troubled, and even those from the regime changing country may come to question or reject their own “liberating” mission.

Since Regime Change is essentially a mix between interstate war and domestic revolution, expect many Rebel Tropes and Military and Warfare Tropes to apply. For a rebel analog that captures the moral ambiguity that can accompany Regime Change, see Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters. In stories set in the real world, expect the CIA to play a prominent role if the regime changer is more of a Hidden Villain.


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    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd:
    • One storyline, titled Regime Change, had Dredd lead a multinational "peacekeeping" task force into Ciudad Barranquilla to depose the ruling Judge Supremo under the pretence of searching for missing Mega City One citizens, the bodies of which are found in a mass burial pit along with all the other dissenters. Dredd executes the Supremo and puts a puppet dictator in his place.
    • Texas City attempts to do this to Mega City One under the guise of providing aid and replacement judges in exchange for extra living space to cope with their own overcrowding. It ends up backfiring, when Dredd confronts Texas City's Chief Judge. Moreso when the situation is essentially reversed by Hershey installing Psi-Judge Lewis as Chief Judge of Texas City.
  • Star Wars: Darth Vader: When the King of Shu-Torun rebels against the Empire, Vader kills him and his equally rebellious sons, and places his more compliant daughter Trios on the throne. Later after Vader and Trios crush a rebellion against her reign, Queen Trios executes the rebellious baron and puts the baron's daughter in his place, learning from her own experience that a young ruler unprepared for the position is easier to manipulate.

    Fan Works 
  • Timeline-191: After the End sees foreign-backed regime changes engineered in order to end the racial Civil Wars in Rhodesia and South Africa. In the case of the former, the OSS (this timeline's CIA) merely enables a Military Coup by moderate officers sick of the radicals running the government. The latter, however, results in a full-scale invasion by the European Community to topple the remnants of the apartheid government and restore order to the country.
  • A Man Like No Other is built around this, as the future version of Steve is trying to bring down President Snow not through District 13's plans for a home-grown revolution, but by bringing in the Avengers to overthrow him externally.
  • Discussed in Myrmidons with regards to the Dominion. It is suggested by a few characters that winning the war with the Hur'q may require the Female Changeling to be removed from power—though Fleet Admiral Cartwright is appalled when Rear Admiral Kanril Eleya asks him to clarify whether he's suggesting she do so (the Prime Directive normally forbids it). The story became a Dead Fic before the canonical point where a Hur'q killed her, effectively making the decision for them.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In The Troy Quartet by Lindsey Clarke based on The Trojan Cycle, the Greeks installed the Trojan priest and advisor, Antenor, in power after overthrowing Priam's dynasty. This is in exchange for Antenor's help in tricking the Trojans into accepting the Trojan Horse.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Played with in the Legacy of the Force novel Sacrifice. Learning that Chancellor Cal Omas is heading off to secret negotiations with Corellian leader Dur Gejjen, some of the Galactic Alliance Guard wonder if Omas is merely going to this secret meeting merely to whip out a blaster and affect some Corellian regime change.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Leverage episode "The San Lorenzo Job" had the team attempt to fix the presidential election in the nation of San Lorenzo. They need the current president gone so he can no longer protect a ruthless international criminal who is their real target.
  • In Season 2 of The 100, Abby is Camp Jaha's Chancellor. However, the Grounders only have respect for Clarke and treat her as the Camp's leader, and since they've got their giant army parked right outside, people inside the Camp begin deferring to her leadership instead of Abby's.
  • Star Trek:
    • Defied by the Federation beginning in Star Trek: The Original Series. The Prime Directive was written in part as a reaction to situations like the CIA-led coup in Iran in 1954 to forbid the Federation from interfering in the governance of other countries.
    • In "By Inferno's Light", the Dominion mounts a lightning invasion of the Cardassian Union and overthrows its current democratically elected government to install Gul Dukat as their puppet dictator.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dogbert has done this more than once in Dilbert.

    Video Games 
  • In Crusader Kings II, you can declare war on a neighbor in order to press the claim to a territory on behalf of someone in your court, often a noble exiled from their homeland, or the loser of a Succession Crisis. If successful, the territory will change hands to someone with a quite favorable opinion of your dynasty, opening the door to incorporating it into your empire as a Voluntary Vassal or through Altar Diplomacy.
  • This is the ultimate goal in the Just Cause games.
  • In Stellaris, empires that aren't Fanatic Pacifists can declare "liberation" wars on nations in order to change their governments, exiling their current leader and installing one that shares their empire's ethics. Though this may cause unrest in the defeated empire due to the ethics clash between the ruler and population, the new government will be much more likely to join the victorious empire as a vassal, federation member, or protectorate to be later annexed.

  • Unsounded: General Bell's coup against the Queen of Cresce turns out to have Aldish supporters with part of his plan including Alderode killing the queen in a military strike.

    Web Original 
  • In the New Deal Coalition Retained timeline, a more proactive Soviet Union eventually inserts special forces units into Yugoslavia to assassinate Josip Tito, so that more Moscow-friendly factions of the Yugoslav government can take over and bring the country back into the Soviet sphere of influence.
    • During the 90s, the CIA backs coups to overthrow the narco-friendly governments of several Latin American countries in order to choke off the supply of drugs into the US.
  • In The Salvation War, the humans do this. To Hell. Not only that, Heaven seems to be next on the list.
  • In The Ruins of an American Party System, both the Olson and LaGuardia administrations have the State Department engineer the fall of multiple Third World right-wing governments in favor of left-leaning ones.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Namer was Iraq in 2003. Other instances abound.
  • The Soviet Union installed puppet governments in occupied Eastern European nations at the end of WWII, using assistance from domestic (but still sponsored, trained and guided by the USSR) revolutionaries. Those assisted coups were hailed as "people's revolutions" or uprisings despite little to no fighting taking place, with direct orders from Stalin to the new government to command the domestic army to stand down while the Red Army was invading. Later during the Cold War, the USSR engaged in planting puppet regimes in Third World countries, much like the CIA did.
  • Look at the history of Latin America, and see which change of government doesn't have CIA involvement behind it. Wikipedia has a list of (known) American involvement in regime change in the region. Not that American meddling is limited to Latin America, or the Cold War period.
  • The CIA also didn't like it that the Iranian prime minister Mossadeq nationalized all foreign oil companies, so they toppled the democratically-elected government and installed the autocratic Shah. Many of the Iranians didn't like that the Shah was modernizing the country, so they toppled him and installed the Ayatollah Khomeini leading an Islamist regime. The US doesn't like the current Islamist government, so...
  • Older Than Feudalism: The ancient Romans demanded this as a part of the peace after the Second Punic War.