Reflecting on American complicity in Mr. Diem’s overthrow a quarter-century after the fact, the diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, who was in South Vietnam at the time of Mr. Diem’s overthrow, expressed hope that the mistakes had at least left policy makers a bit wiser. Perhaps, he speculated, they “learned to ask themselves more searching questions about what kind of regime might follow the incumbents; about the real extent of American influence, and of its ability to control events. …”
They hadn’t then. They haven’t since. In Washington, the conviction that removing obstreperous leaders, whether adversaries like Saddam Hussein or “friends” like Hosni Mubarak, facilitates Washington’s ability to steer events remains the most persistent — and dangerous — of illusions. Yet time and again, the effect has been to let loose the forces of anarchy.