Latin America & East Asia: Similarities and Differences in Financial Crises

While the Latin American Debt Crisis of the 1980s and the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 generally both stemmed from overborrowing from foreign lenders, the type of crisis that unfolded depended on the level of government intervention prior to the crisis and the type of crisis (fiscal or currency-based) determined the rapidity of the crisis’ development. In Latin America, heavy government intervention in the import substitution model created a heavy reliance on foreign loans, with too much capital being used for consumption. In contrast, the financial liberalization in the 1990s in East Asia created a lack of national financial supervision, causing massive inflows of foreign capital to private sources, making these sources dependent on foreign loans as well. However, the public debt of Latin America created a gradual fiscal problem in which countries no longer could service their loans, causing defaults, whereas in East Asia a few defaults caused by the real estate bubble crash led to the sudden panic of foreign investors, triggering a currency crisis and then a widespread default of Asian financial institutions. Thus, in Latin America, defaults caused destructive capital flight while in East Asia, investors speculated currency devaluation and therefore their capital flight caused further and rapid defaults. 

At the core, both crises reached breaking points as a result of foreign capital flight, implying an overreliance on foreign borrowing to stimulate the economic development. “The Asian crisis can be understood as … caused by a boom of international lending” while “the [Latin American] debt crisis had its origin … with the burst of bank lending during 1979-1981,” demonstrating that the sharp increases in foreign lending just before the crises became problematic when defaults and capital flight also happened at such rapidity (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 2) (Swan, 1992: 19). Also, in both crises, foreign lending came primarily from aggressive international financial institutions and not governments, causing the sharp increase in loans as investors tried to turn profits from higher interest rates abroad. This became problematic as “the fast-growing Asian economies [were] heavily in debt to foreign investors, including international banks, hedge funds and other investment funds,” similar to the case in Latin America where “banks have moved aggressively to increase their foreign lending” and “[overlent] to LDCs in the 1970s and early 1980s” (Sachs & Woo, 2000: 18) (Volcker, 1980: 9) (Dymski & Pastor, 1990: 153). While for some time these loans helped to stimulate growing economies and develop various sectors, the lack of investment in productive sectors either made loans unpayable or created unmanageable asset bubbles that did not generate long term profits to service the loans and lead to financial independence. In fact, “in the 1970s, as banking expansion became predominant, the Latin American debt became so huge that it fed itself,” due to poor government intervention in the developing economy,” while “excessive unhedged foreign borrowing by the domestic private sector” in East Asia demonstrated the lack of necessary government economic involvement to prevent a financial crisis (Martínez, 1993: 67) (Fischer, 1998: 169). 

Although the aggressive capital inflow and foreign borrowing was similar in both crises, Latin American governments, in pursuit of national development through import substitution, drove the overborrowing, while in East Asia, government liberalization of financial policies and a lack of supervision allowed private sectors to borrow too much. Economic conditions as a result of import substitution development, a government intervention program, made developing economies in Latin America overly dependent on foreign loans and allowed for a diversion of investment inconsistent with long-term growth and thus Cleveland & Brittain conclude, “the rapid rise of LDC debt was due to …  overly expansive domestic policies followed by some LDCs” (1977: 739). The poor macroeconomic policies by governments allowed the debt to accumulate over time as not enough loans were invested in productive capacities in order to generate profits to pay off the debt. Although the rising oil prices as a result of OPEC policies forced governments to spend more on consumption, they still needed to take into account the long run consequences of simply feeding current consumption. Cleveland & Brittain criticize these policies, stating “a borrowing country’s entire development effort may be so poorly conceived or managed as to yield returns too small to provide the margin needed to service foreign debt obligations” because “borrowing [went] mainly to enlarge consumption in the borrowing country rather than for investment” (1977: 740, 742). Therefore, it is evident that overborrowing in Latin America was driven by governmental policies that attempted to appease citizens and help alleviate poverty in the short run, while debt continued to increase to the point of default. Further, when bank loans were “used for the import of unessential consumer goods, military expenditures, or to finance capital finance and management fiscal deficits,” the creditworthiness of these countries dropped, preventing further foreign loans and causing capital flight (Devlin & Ffrench-Davis, 1995: 123). 

In East Asia, the liberalization and deregulation of the financial sector, an attempt to further grow the economies, allowed too much capital inflow and not enough oversight to prevent asset bubbles and defaults. Sachs & Woo recount that “in the early 1990s, these countries liberalized their financial markets, with the effect that domestic banks and corporations could suddenly borrow from abroad,” which at first seemed beneficial for emerging markets, but the growing investments in non-productive sectors such as real estate made these loans vulnerable to default (2000: 22-23). Therefore, “lax prudential rules and financial oversight … led to a sharp deterioration in the quality of bank’s loan portfolios,” meaning that domestic banks began making loans to risky debtors in search of more profits, not realizing that such loans could cause them to default to the international lenders, creating a crisis (Fischer, 1998: 168). While liberalizing the market was seen as beneficial after observing the negative effects of government intervention in Latin America, the governments in East Asia liberalized too much without experience or prudent regulations to control the foreign capital and bad domestic loans, which “made the financial system vulnerable to an exogenous shock whose effect was multiplied by bank failures, creating a credit squeeze and leading to rounds of liquidations” (King, 2001: 444). Had governments enforced regulations over the types of domestic loans that could be made, the entire crisis may have been prevented since the real estate bubble would have slowed. In fact, the lack of government regulation worsened the capital flight that occurred; “the lack of clear bankruptcy laws and workout mechanisms added to the withdrawal of credit, since foreign lenders feared they would have little recourse to collect on bad loans” (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 35). The lack of government regulation in Thailand led to an asset bubble that eventually created a currency crisis throughout East Asia, while too much government intervention in Latin America fueled consumption and slowly led to a debt crisis. 

Although both crises originated in the overborrowing of foreign loans, the Latin American Debt Crisis was a fiscal and debt crisis that grew slowly over years, while the East Asian Financial Crisis evolved into a sudden currency crisis due to investor panic, creating a ripple effect throughout the region. In Latin America, governments slowly became more indebted to foreign lenders as not enough profits were generated to service the loans; the governments simply took out more loans, “initiating the spiral of indebtedness that was eventually to explode” as the “economies … chose to go the route of borrowing more resources than they could efficiently absorb” (Martínez, 1993: 66) (Devlin & Ffrench-Davis, 1995: 124). However, eventually these governments defaulted on their loans because “their external debt [grew] faster than their ability to pay it” causing international investors to stop loaning, and creating the crisis as there was no way to continue supporting the economy at the current rates of spending (Cleveland & Brittain, 1977: 734). Therefore, the crisis was primarily fiscal as it resulted from governments neglecting to generate profits and run surpluses, instead opting to finance fiscal deficits with foreign loans. When defaults caused the foreign loans to cease, Latin American countries were forced to reduce consumption, damaging their economies. The runup to the Latin American Debt Crisis happened gradually, with countries going further into debt each year, contrary to the sudden and generally unforeseen currency crisis in East Asia. 

The crisis in East Asia reached a breaking point after the devaluation of the Thai baht, demonstrating that currency issues drove the bulk of the crisis. The massive influx of foreign loans created a real estate bubble as “too much money was poured into speculative real estate projects” and “long term, risky investments” since domestic financial institutions had a four point spread on interest rates between their foreign loans and the real estate loans they gave out (Sachs & Woo, 2000: 23) (Kim & Haque, 2002: 41). When the bubble collapsed, “the failures of finance companies helped set off the exodus [of foreign funds],” although not all domestic financial institutions had defaulted yet (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 33). Thus, a few defaults by domestic financial institutions as a result of the real estate bubble crash caused many investors to pull their foreign capital investments, eventually leading to the baht devaluation. The devaluation of the baht made it too expensive for other domestic financial institutions to service their loans, causing widespread defaults in Thailand and a crisis throughout the region as investors feared currency devaluations in other East Asian countries as well. “The currency depreciations led to widespread bankruptcies and slow economic growth,” demonstrating that the currency devaluations fueled the crisis, rather than a gradual fiscal crisis (Kim & Haque, 2002: 41). While in Latin America the debts crippled the economies, in East Asia, the debts were only tremendous for some companies, with the sudden pulling of foreign assets creating the majority of the problems through a rapid drop in local currency value. Also, the capital flight in East Asia was driven heavily by speculation since “a swift change in expectations was the catalyst for the massive capital outflows that triggered the crisis” (Kim & Haque, 2002: 42). This sudden reversal of investor confidence sparked a currency crisis that differs from the crisis in Latin America where investors lost their confidence over time as a result of poor fiscal management. 

While these crises had major differences in their causes, their similarities demonstrate how countries should respond to crises. In both cases, capital flight worsened the economic situations of the countries more than the initial defaults. In the wake of default or currency failures, countries should insure foreign deposits so that investors do not fear losses and cause capital flight. While the insurance occurs, governments should correct the macroeconomic problems such as fiscal deficits or stimulating the recovery of an asset bubble crash. Preventing capital flight would make such corrections easier and let the economy recover since currency values would remain stable. While the Latin American Debt Crisis had less to do with currency than the crisis in East Asia, capital flight did worsen their economies since they were fueled by foreign capital. While the factors that allowed the crises to occur and the general manifestations (fiscal vs. currency) of the crises differed, both demonstrate that the over-borrowing of foreign capital and subsequent capital flight can cause significant damage to developing economies. These countries ought to balance their regulation in their economies by allowing foreign capital to fund productive sectors that generate profits, and not diverting funds to politically beneficial projects or allowing too much capital to flood the speculative, non-productive sector. 

Bibliography

Cleveland, Harold van B., and W. H. Bruce Brittain. “Are the LDCs in over Their Heads .” Foreign Affairs, vol. 55, no. 4, July 1977, pp. 732–750.

Devlin, Robert, and Ricardo Ffrench-Davis. “The Great Latin America Debt Crisis: A Decade of Asymmetric Adjustment .” Brazilian Journal of Political Economy , vol. 15, no. 3, 1995.

Dymski, Gary A., and Manuel Pastor. “Bank Lending, Misleading Signals, and the Latin American Debt Crisis.” The International Trade Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, 1991, pp. 151–191.

Fischer, Stanley. “The Asian Crisis: A View from the IMF.” Journal of International Financial Management and Accounting , vol. 9, no. 2, 1998.

Kim, Suk H., and Mahfuzul Haque. “The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997: Causes and Policy Responses.” Multinational Business Review , vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2002, pp. 37–44.

King, Michael R. “Who Triggered the Asian Financial Crisis.” Review of International Political Economy, vol. 8, no. 3, 2001, pp. 438–466.

Martínez, Osvaldo. “Debt and Foreign Capital: The Origin of the Crisis.” Latin American Perspectives, Translated by Luis Fierro, vol. 20, no. 1, 1993, pp. 64–82.

Radelet, Steven, and Jeffrey Sachs. “The Onset of the East Asian Financial Crisis.” NBER Working Paper Series, no. 6680, Aug. 1998.

Swan, Philip L. “Economic Reform in Latin America.” Business Economics, vol. 27, no. 2, Apr. 1992, pp. 18–23.

Volcker, Paul L. “The Recycling Problem Revisited .” Challenge, vol. 23, no. 3, 1980, pp. 3–14.

Woo, Wing Thye., and Jeffrey D. Sachs. The Asian Financial Crisis: Lessons for a Resilient Asia. MIT Press, 2000.

The 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Constructivist Explanation

**Note: Since this paper originally used footnotes (which could not be transferred over), in-text citations can be provided upon request.**

The 2003 invasion of Iraq is considered one of the most perplexing and ridiculed American military adventures in recent history. Considering the complex factors and people behind the decision, perceptions and ideational goals appeared consistently and seemed to set the tone and drive the Bush administration to launch a preventative war against Iraq. Andrew Flibbert writes, “Ideational factors … alone deemed the Iraq war necessary and appropriate to the circumstances, and they alone tell us why the administration wanted a war that seemed reckless to many outside the pro-war ideational community.” The ideas and factors behind the decision consisted of a demonstration of power and credibility after the Gulf War and 9/11, the promotion of democracy, human rights, and American values in contrast to an evil regime, and the preservation and reassertion of American unipolarity and hegemony. While in some ways these ideas are distinct, their combination that drove the decision to invade reveals many similarities in their reasoning. The interplay of these ideas, perceptions, and norms, each supported by different facets of the Bush administration, demonstrates that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 should be viewed in a constructivist light. 

After the end of the Cold War, America’s military might seemed to far surpass any other country in the world. Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, the US enjoyed a relative safety with only minor military engagements abroad, causing the perception of threat and challenge to American firepower to be ignored. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 not only proved America to be vulnerable to attack, but also portrayed the country as weak for not being able to thwart a $500,000 attack by a terrorist network. Col. Paul Hughes, who was working at the Pentagon that day, bluntly states “We got our ass kicked” and compares the feeling of that day to the embarrassment Union generals felt after the Battle of Bull Run. 9/11 challenged the widely held notions of American military strength, and US officials felt destined to combat this newfound perception of weakness. Richard Clarke writes, “Bush personally went to war chiefly to prove that the United States was undeterred by 9/11, that we could take combat casualties without running away.” Only attacking the culprits behind 9/11, al-Qaeda hiding in Afghanistan, would be the assumed response to such an attack on the country. However, the constructivist framework demonstrates that combatting the perception of weakness as the global hegemon is more important than simply retaliating for the attack. A major military engagement was needed to demonstrate America’s will to use force to correct the new perception, demonstrated by Markus Heinrich’s statement, “[Afghanistan] was not the awe inspiring hammer blow which the US wanted to demonstrate its power.” Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld discussed hat Afghanistan did not have enough targets and that the campaign there was relatively less aggressive than he wanted America’s response to be, thus demonstrating that the constructivist approach explains the demonstration of force even against an enemy not directly implicated in the terrorist attacks. The hawks within the Bush administration “hankered to invade Iraq not because Saddam was strong and dangerous but because he was weak and vulnerable, not because he was implicated in 9/11 but because he looked like an easy mark.” This response in Iraq strongly contrasts the realist view, first because “the pre-war balance of power favored the United States by an overwhelming margin” and because the invasion of Iraq was precipitated on combating a negative and weak perception, not a demonstrated threat. Markus Heinrich claims that US officials considered the demonstration of force “necessary to deter others and to dispel any appearance of weakness following 9/11.” 

Besides 9/11, the unspectacular victory in the 1991 Gulf War that failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power provided another perception of weakness and the lack of complete force for the United States. “The seeds of the second president Bush’s decision to invade were planted by the unfinished nature of the 1991 war,” Thomas Ricks writes. There is no mention that failing to kill Saddam and destroy the Ba’athist regime in 1991 made the regime more powerful and thus warranted a second war. In fact, the regime was heavily weakened after 20th-century wars with Iran and the United States, proving that the failure to defeat the regime in 1991 simply gave a weak perception of American military credibility, and that provided the sense of unfinished business vis-a-vis Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Jeffrey Record writes, “the defiant Iraqi dictator’s very survival represented an embarrassing strategic defeat for the United States.” His description of an “embarrassing” defeat further cements the weak perception of the global hegemon. Further, “the sense of the need to correct a mistake became all the more potent after 9/11,” demonstrating that the combination of unfinished business in 1991 and the attack in 2001 combined to devalue America’s perceived strength and commitment to use force, a perception the Bush administration believed could be reversed by invading Iraq.

The strong demonstration of force with a more nimble and efficient fighting force comprised an ideational transformation of military purpose and power spearheaded by Secretary Rumsfeld even before the 9/11 attacks. Gordon and Trainor recount, “when he arrived at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld made clear that his goal was nothing less than to remake the U.S. military to fashion a leaner and more lethal force” and Cramer & Duggan state “it appears Rumsfeld merged this goal of ‘proving transformation’ with the goal of invading Iraq. In addition to combating the weak perception after 9/11, Rumsfeld wanted to show off his revamped military and project American power simply to prove a point. “The whole point of military transformation, as [Rumsfeld] saw it, was to demonstrate that America could project power and topple rogue regimes with a small, light force and that, therefore, it could do so repeatedly, anytime, anywhere, at low cost and little effort.” Rumsfeld held a belief that America’s ability to demonstrate force with little effort was part of its identity in the post-Cold War system. This idea is explained by constructivist thought because it focuses on perceptions of the identity of a country in the global order, not simply focusing on balancing power and threats and playing a role in institutions. Michael Ledeen, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, bluntly highlighted this conception, saying “every ten years or so, the US needs to take some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business,” using military force as a way to ensure hegemonic credibility.

While the hegemony provided a perceived notion of the superiority of American strength and commitment to upholding that system, several events throughout the 1990s and early 2000s put cracks in that credibility, such as the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000, which elicited weak and failed responses. These terrorist attacks, which occurred during the Clinton administration, seemed to prompt Bush officials to fix the credibility problem they faced. Bush, reiterating a previous statement by Vice President Cheney, states “this is an administration that when we say we’re going to do something we mean it … and we’re not going to miss the opportunity to make the world more peaceful and more free,” emphasizing in a post 9/11 society that America would no longer be bullied by terrorists, and that terrorists would face serious consequences. This desire to promote a credible commitment to US security, hegemony, and way of life reveals another constructivist aspect behind the decision to invade because the security aspect here is more about the reputation that America responds to attacks on its citizens, and not necessarily to just physically prevent them from happening again. Oliver Roy concurs, stating, “the invasion was largely aimed at demonstrating America’s political will and commitment to go to war,” a will that had been severely lacking (besides minor aerial engagements) since 1991.

Throughout the invasion planning process, a notable disagreement was the number of troops needed to be successful, with military leaders pushing for far more than Rumsfeld desired. The key factor in this difference of opinion stemmed from their motives. The military was primarily concerned with winning, as that is the organizational culture of an organization designed to fight, while Rumsfeld, a civilian who formed part of the president’s cabinet, was concerned with proving to the world that America could do more with less. Bob Woodward recounts these discussions, stating “the guidance to [General] Franks seemed to be: Keep it small, the smallest you can get away with.” The military and Rumsfeld were committed to emphasizing priorities that were in line with their identities and roles, highlighting the constructivist approach in their decision making. While the different actors disagreed on how to best accomplish the task, the goal of many deeply involved was a demonstration of US power. Invading Iraq “presented an attractive option. Iraq was weak [and] it was led by a notoriously cruel and demonised figure,” demonstrating the next ideational reason the US invaded Iraq: to topple an evil dictator and in turn promote democracy, human rights, and American values.

While the demonstration of power and military efficiency was mainly spearheaded by Rumsfeld, the moral response of installing democracy was the primary driver for President Bush. First, Bush advocated for freedom and democracy in a moral sense of human dignity, not merely to promote democratic peace theory and provide more safety and stability. Bush described freedom as “the non-negotiable demand of human dignity” and “God’s gift to everybody in the world,” injecting a sense of morality and religion. While Bush’s advisors, such as Rumsfeld, pushed the invasion for their ideational goals, Bush’s predisposition to act based on his moral and religious views made him easier to win over for support of the invasion. In fact, he states “I believe we have a duty to free people,” demonstrating a strong personal commitment to spreading democracy. However, while his personal values did lean him toward this approach, his realist foreign policy that existed prior to 9/11 limited its implementation, demonstrating that 9/11 played a major role in changing the way various ideas were portrayed and considered. Jeffrey Record writes, “George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, who before 9/11 embraced the realist approach to foreign policy and its attendant elevation of stability over democracy, became committed converts to the messianic ‘freedom’ mission only after 9/11,” describing the dramatic shift to constructivism after the Bush administration realized that placation in the face of evil acts was no longer an option. Bush began to focus on human rights as a result of observing the effects of oppressive groups such as al-Qaeda, and “wondered how the U.S. could reform such societies, and wanted to advocate the promotion of democracy and women’s rights in the Muslim world.” This new way of thinking is rooted in constructivism, as Bush’s ideas and beliefs about what people, not just his own citizens, deserve as human beings guided his foreign policy choices. He once simply stated, “there is a human condition that we must worry about,” which goes against the standard discussions of security, power, institutions, and global cooperation that dominate realist and liberal thinking, instead putting focus on values, specifically ones central to Bush’s belief system and the American way of life. 

Bush slowly started to see the benefits of pursuing a constructivist foreign policy in relation to his faith. He believed he could justify the new demonstration of American force by tying it to the betterment of societies. Flibbert comments on the shift in policy by explaining, “power was to be used not just to manage international problems, but to change the world for the better.” Bush’s dramatic shift from realism is also shown by his speech to West Point graduates in 2002, stating “we have a great opportunity to extend a just peace by replacing poverty, repression and resentment around the world with a hope of a better day,” which Bob Woodward explains by writing, “the goal was not only an absence of war but a just peace which included moral purposes, democracy, free markets and the rights of women.” While Bush did launch wars on specific terrorist organizations, he collectively launched a war on terror and political/radical Islam, two related ideas that connect to the constructivist approach of ideational thinking and goals. He effectively sought to change the social and political structure of the Middle East for moral reasons, something that departs from most foreign policy thinking. While a democratic Middle East certainly would have its material and diplomatic benefits for the US, Bush’s goal of “pulling the plug on [Saddam’s] toxic regime” and “[transforming] the sick political culture of the Middle East” was grounded in his personal perceptions of good and evil, a dichotomy that Bush increasingly used after 9/11 and in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. 

Not since the Cold War had a president so consistently used vocabulary involving morality in relation to foreign policy matters. In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush referred to anti-American states, including Iraq, as constituting an “axis of evil,” language that painted the three countries as morally backward. Not only were these states threatening to the safety of American citizens and the security and stability of the international system, but they were inherently wrong in their nature, according to Bush. This introduction of morality into foreign policy discussion follows a constructivist explanation of ideas and norms, with the norms being American values of freedom and democracy, something North Korea, Iran, and Iraq all lacked to an extent. Additionally, Bush’s religious guidance on foreign policy matters, especially combating what he viewed as evil after 9/11, displays another constructivist explanation for his impulses to go to war with Iraq. Muhammad Ahmad argues that “for Bush … the chief motor was his simplistic, messianic belief in fighting what he considered an ‘evil’ regime,” showing that Bush believed he had a duty as a Christian to fight Saddam, which Jeffrey Record describes as Bush “[believing] he was doing God’s will as president.” Thus, “Bush, who regarded terrorism as evil and Saddam Hussein as a terrorist, saw the war against Iraq as a war against evil,” allowing him to be convinced by prominent advisors, who were also driven by ideational factors, to go to war. Bob Woodward goes further in his description of the Iraqi leader, writing “it was almost as if Saddam was an agent of the devil.” Combining Bush’s personal vendetta with Saddam for the attempted assassination of his father with his religious duty to rid the world of evil, created an ideological impulse for Bush to authorize a war with Iraq that many experts considered non-vital to national security.   

Bush’s desire to change societies fit into neoconservatives’ desire for regime change, although their motives differed in various ways. Bush, guided by his faith, pursued goals of human rights and free societies, while neoconservatives argued for the export of American values due to their notion of inherent American exceptionalism. The desire to preserve and reassert American hegemony was justified by this concept of inherent exceptionalism and the idea that it was thus appropriate for the US to launch wars against revisionist states who challenged the unipolar system. In some ways, this factor of the decision to invade is similar to Rumsfeld’s desire to project force, but this neoconservative argument is broader in its belief of American political supremacy, instead of simply focusing on the military. Record states “the invasion … was designed to perpetuate [American] hegemony by intimidating those who would challenge it.” This reveals the interconnectedness between demonstrating force and preserving hegemony in that neoconservatives believe that force was a valid means of maintaining American dominance in the system. The neoconservatives’ ambition to maintain a significant level of hegemony coincided with their larger emphasis on unilateralism than the Clinton administration had emphasized. Flibbert states that “the drive for hegemony contrasts sharply with the liberal institutionalist view that multilateralism in foreign policy is more efficacious,” revealing a departure from Clinton’s liberal view for a more constructivist and ideational view of world politics grounded in American hegemony and exceptionalism. Record sums up this transition by arguing, “it was about showing the world, friend and foe alike, who was boss. It was about supplanting realism and multilateralism with value exportation and unilateralism.” The neoconservatives believed the US to be too constrained in its foreign policy decisions, something they deemed inappropriate considering the level of respect it deserves in the international system. This criticism is not one of power because the US physically had the power to act in its interests, but of the conception that in a world of norms and institutions, the US should be acknowledged as justified in acting as a hegemon. The neoconservatives “consciously decided to use Iraq as the first step of a wider design intended to eventually enable the United States to act unilaterally anywhere around the world with relative impunity,” essentially using Iraq as an assertion of their perceived appropriate role of the US. The conception of American exceptionalism and its aspect of the logic of appropriateness further show the constructivist explanations behind the invasion and served as the neoconservatives’ primary impetus for war with Iraq.

The neoconservatives’ belief in American exceptionalism is interconnected to the two aforementioned reasons for invading: the demonstration of force to combat a perception of weakness and the moral drive to liberate the oppressed. Neoconservatives believed that the US had an inherent moral primacy that justified the continuance of US hegemony. Flibbert writes, “the United States, unlike any other great power in human history, was deemed capable of playing a dominant but entirely benevolent role in world politics, since U.S. intentions were believed to be irreproachable,” causing neoconservatives to moderately rebuke the liberal international system in favor of their ideational tendency to support some form of unilateral action. Markus Heinrich claims that the US policy in Iraq “derived from …. Manifest Destiny,” an idea that neoconservatives believed extended far beyond the American West and into the realm of domination in international politics. This unilateral behavior is entirely constructivist because it has nothing to do with balancing power and entirely rebukes the liberal adherence to multilateralism. Flibbert explains, “the [Bush] administration authored its unilateralism with America’s unique identity, not as a form of self-help in a world of anarchy.” And, although the US did attempt to receive a UN resolution to justify its action, “Bush was going to tell the UN either they solve the Saddam problem or the US would.” The belief in American exceptionalism allowed suppression of the criticism from allies such as France and Germany, allowing invasion planning to continue, driven by the aforementioned ideational factors. Proponents of the invasion believed that “a hegemonic America served as keeper of the global order and was entitled to defend its primacy from both latent threats and open acts of defiance,” fully showing the constructivist approach in its reference to defiance, acts that do not necessarily constitute a security threat, but a threat to the global perception of the United States.

As stated by Steven Metz, the “rationale for military intervention against Iraq… was always a polyglot of ideas and themes.” The ideational objectives of the various actors combined into a decision that began to comprise an element of groupthink, arguably making invasion the “obvious” choice at one point. The recurrence of the concern with perception and a sense of obligation to change the world and preserve American identity shaped the decision- making more than any consideration of power balancing or maintaining the legitimacy of multilateral institutions. The unique prevalence of these ideas shaped the entire discussion of invasion from the beginning, and also provided a legitimacy of the decision to Bush administration officials. Without ideational prevalence, it is likely that an invasion of Iraq would not have been agreed upon so quickly. Thus, in order to understand why Iraq was invaded with a relatively small amount of time to discuss it, one must view the decision in a constructivist light, to uncover the drive and rationale of a foreign policy decision that cost thousands of lives and still haunts the United States to this day. 

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