Regime change—the phrase sounds so cool and antiseptic. But before Congress bought President Bush’s prescription for curing the world’s ills, it should have reviewed some medical history on the disastrous side-effects of this quack remedy.

The first patient in line for this harsh medicine—Iraq—has already taken it twice before. The results turned a minor regional irritant into a wound of worldwide concern.

Iraq’s first dose came in 1963, when a young CIA protege named Saddam Hussein helped overthrow Gen. Abdul Qassim, who had nationalized some of the country’s foreign oil interests two years earlier.

According to one history, “CIA assistance reportedly included coordination of the coup plotters from the agency’s radio station inside the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and solicitation of advice (on who) should be eliminated once the coup was successful.”

After more domestic political instability, another CIA-backed coup in 1968 installed Hussein as deputy to the new military ruler. Hussein waited his turn and became dictator in 1979.

Hussein’s popularity in Washington peaked during the 1980s, when the Reagan-Bush administration supported his invasion of Iran with billions of dollars in export credits and top-secret satellite intelligence.

By supporting Hussein, Washington was just trying to fix the damage done by another regime change gone awry years earlier in Iran.

Iran took its bitter medicine in 1953, when a now infamous coup, planned by the CIA and British intelligence, deposed the elected government of Premier Mohammed Mossadeq, which had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

Operation Ajax, as it was code-named, led to the death of hundreds of Mossadeq followers, the return of the shah to the throne and creation of a new oil consortium favorable to U.S. oil companies.

By the 1970s, the shah was squandering billions of dollars a year in oil wealth on exotic armaments. His jails were packed with the victims of his secret police, SAVAK. And millions of resentful Iranians began listening to anti-American clerics, including one named Khomeini.

The overthrow of the shah in 1979 marked the first great modern victory of militant political Islam. It helped inspire jihadists in a neighboring country that was left similarly hobbled by regime change: Afghanistan.

In 1979, Afghanistan was governed by a secular, pro-Soviet government. Its policies of land reform, women’s rights and opium suppression antagonized rural conservatives who began to rebel.

A State Department memo that summer argued, “The United States’ larger interest would be served by the demise of the regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the (government) would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate.”

President Jimmy Carter approved the first directive for secret aid to the Islamic rebels on July 3, 1979. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told the president that day “in my opinion, this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

The Soviets finally did intervene that December, fearing a radical Muslim state on their border. Brzezinski wrote again to Carter: “We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War.”

The United States and its surrogates gave the mujahedeen training in guerrilla warfare and billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which were later turned against us after the Soviets departed.

In 1986, the CIA backed a Pakistani initiative “to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan mujahedeen,” according to Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid. “Eventually, more than 100,000 Muslim radicals (were) influenced by the jihad.”

One of them, of course, was the Saudi fanatic, Osama bin Laden.

Today, the United States is bogged down in Afghanistan while the two neighboring products of regime change—Iran and Iraq—top the Bush administration’s short list of “evil-doers.” Iraq awaits its third dose of regime change at an estimated cost of more than $100 billion and countless lives.

Remedies that inflict too much harm on patients are considered criminal malpractice. But the Bush administration’s prescription is unique in that it threatens grievous harm to the doctor as well. The United States cannot afford to breed more hatred and resentment around the world through regime change, however appealing it may sound.