Two years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, as the Barack Obama administration contends with a drawdown in Afghanistan, significant new scholarship is reengaging persistent questions about both conflicts. Stephen Benedict Dyson and Renanah Miles share a concern with some of the conventional wisdom that has emerged over the years, and they offer sharply focused and emphatic correctives. While they tell different kinds of stories and take distinctive approaches, together they suggest a levels-of-analysis dilemma that puts their contributions in perspective. After summarizing the core arguments of each article, this review will consider that dilemma along with a few substantive and evidentiary questions.
Will the international community be able to build consolidated democratic regimes in Afghanistan or Iraq in the context of decade-long military interventions in those nations? In “Forced to be Free?” Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten argue persuasively that if foreign nations intervene in a state simply to impose a new leader on that state, democracy is unlikely to flourish regardless of whether the intervening state is democratic or autocratic. Active efforts to impose democracy by force are unlikely to succeed unless they take place in the context of domestic conditions that facilitate democratization. Many scholars have made similar arguments in the past, but this effort stands out because it presents a novel data set of cases of foreign-imposed regime change that goes back to 1816. It also is one of the first studies of this issue that takes into account the problem of selection effects and which can offer an informed answer to the question of whether democracy promotion by force fails because of the intent and/or actions of the intervener or because interveners choose tough cases in which to try to build democratic regimes. While the article represents an excellent contribution to this important debate, a broader conception of foreign-imposed regime change might lead to somewhat different interpretations than those presented in this work.
Many scholars and policymakers concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons assume that the passage of time has made it much easier for states and terrorist groups to achieve their nuclear ambitions. For example, in their book The Nuclear Express, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman reflect this common assumption: “Any well-industrialized society with the intellectual firepower, economic resources, and government determination can join the nuclear club less than three years from go.”
Robert Pape adds to a growing literature that is trying to develop a more cohesive approach to controlling or mitigating episodes of genocide and mass atrocity violence. His call for a more pragmatic approach is certainly laudable and his claims that the world has not fared well in preventing past genocides is certainly correct. Overall, however, his article is puzzling on a number of analytical points and his prescription for a pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention appears to fall short of providing a clear and workable framework for alleviating mass atrocity events.
Competing accounts of why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 have shaped U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, debates about force sizing and doctrines on counterinsurgency, and academic research on the dynamics of armed conflict. Nevertheless, few scholars have attempted to test these competing accounts against one another systematically. “Testing the Surge” approached this issue by combining declassified, geocoded data on violent events with information about local-level military behavior gained from an original series of seventy structured interviews with Coalition officers. This evidence allowed us to leverage the substantial variation in violence patterns across Iraq in order to evaluate causal claims. We argued that the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 involves a synergistic interaction between the Surge and the Sunni Awakening: both were necessary but neither was sufficient, while other explanations (including the dynamics of sectarian cleansing) cannot account for local or national violence trends.
The 2007 deployment of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, colloquially known as ‘the surge,’ cast a long shadow over subsequent U.S. foreign policy, including the 2009 decision to similarly ‘surge’ troops in Afghanistan. It will further affect the upcoming confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, where Hagel’s opposition the surge while in the U.S. Senate is likely to be a topic of discussion. Supporters of the decision in Iraq have claimed that the reduction of violence and political stabilization in Iraq in 2007-2008 was substantially due to the surge. Skeptics of the surge have highlighted other factors endogenous to Iraq as being equally, if not more, important, yet it is the pro-surge viewpoint that has dominated the public perception of Iraq. Thus the question of what actually reduced the violence in Iraq remains open even as policy is made on the assumption that the surge was primarily responsible.
In January 1955, Michael Roberts, a Professor of early modern Swedish history, approached the podium at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. A veteran of the Second World War and post-war government service in Stockholm, he had been at the university for a year. Roberts was working on a biography of the warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus, and was exploring the reasons for his phenomenal success during the Thirty Year’s War. In this lecture, Roberts argued, tactical changes developed by the Dutch leader Maurice of Orange, during his war with Spain, not only changed the conduct of military affairs but exerted a profound effect on European and world history. Rather than simply narrating events, as was the standard method for most historians, Roberts sought to explain why these changes took place, what they meant in the immediate period, and what their long-term effects were.  It is doubtful Roberts realized the effect of this lecture, as it became a paradigm for understanding the nature of war and its effect on society.
How can we understand the important phenomenon of modern-day warlords, often associated with state failure and transborder criminality even as state leaders frequently rely upon them as a source of order or peace in the most difficult of conditions? Kimberly Marten’s Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States blazes a new trail in answering this question, adopting an explicitly inductive approach to theory-building through the study of four important cases of warlordism: Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Georgia’s strongmen in Ajara and the Kodori Gorge, the Sons of Iraq, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creation in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Sarah Kreps has made a superb contribution to the burgeoning academic literature on the causes of military intervention. This literature reflects the enormity of the task social scientists face in comprehending world affairs.
This enormity stems from the many choices social scientists have to make in order to investigate reality. Unlike physicists, they do not start with a single universe inhabited by objects that obey physical laws and have no independent ideas or social institutions of their own. They confront a universe in which objects have minds of their own, behave interactively through various social networks and institutions, and may or may not act in line with material forces. On top of all that, social scientists inhabit the universe they examine. They are studying themselves. They belong to specific countries and favor certain ideas and institutions. Should they focus on the United States or on other countries? Should they privilege the causal power of ideas, power or institutions? Should they look at the world from an individual, country, or systemic level of analysis?
The community of national security scholars benefits whenever Richard K. Betts publishes a new article or book, because his work is consistently well researched, gracefully written, thoughtful, and provocative. I find this work to be no exception and said so on the jacket cover when the book was published. The distinguished reviewers gathered here agree that Betts has produced another worthy volume, although some are disappointed at what they see as an overly shrill tone in some chapters. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is that Betts emerges as an avowed dove—sort of—after a long history of sounding rather hawkish (although never extreme). Betts in fact refers to himself in the preface as a Cold War hawk, now converted into a post-Cold War dove—even if, he tells us, this “recent dovishness is of a crusty sort” (xi).