Why did the United States invade Iraq?
The pretense was that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Another popular reason, however, was to make the country safe for democracy.
The campaign – like so many foreign interventions – was “an abysmal failure,” says Professor Chris Coyne in the new Learn Liberty video below. Over 100,000 people died, mostly civilians; the U.S. spent over $800 billion on military infrastructure; about 1.3 million Iraqis are now internally displaced; and over half the population is not economically active. Not to mention the emergence and spread of terrorist cells like ISIS. Suffice it to say the country is far worse off today than it was in 2003 prior to the US invasion.
Chris Coyne explains that foreign invasions and nation-building often fail because of the “knowledge problem,” where policymakers and military personnel are not aware of the values and culture of the host country—making it very difficult to build a new government structure that internalizes those attitudes and beliefs.
Mismatching incentives can also be problematic for foreign interventions. The incentives of policymakers and government agencies almost always align with self-interest rather than the interests of the invaded country. As a result, the invaded country is a means to an end for policymakers, rather than the end in itself.
Supporters of nation building may have good intentions, but as the study of the knowledge problem and incentives (not to mention prior experience) shows, good intentions often bring abysmal results.