It’s up to Gen Z to chart a new vision for the GOP

This op-ed originally appeared in the Boston Globe, and was co-authored with Ryan Doucette, Samuel Garber, and John Olds.

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“You cannot tell me this is our guy.”

That feeling, that sentiment of unfettered disgust is one that animates the sensibilities of many young Republicans today. It is a simple emotion — one of pure conviction — that opposing the personal and political essence of this president of the United States is the right thing to do.

However, while we firmly believe that preventing the reelection of Donald Trump is a necessary precondition to realizing our vision for the future of the GOP, our mission will become even more important after Nov. 3.

As we’ve grown up in politics, the Republican Party has gifted us many things: a political home, sound principles, and, most of all, each other. But while this party has brought our friendships closer together, its current iteration of right-wing Trumpian populism has been tearing our country apart. In a sense, we’ve become politically alienated, as rhetoric and policies move toward the extreme.Get Today in Opinion in your inboxGlobe Opinion’s must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.Sign Up

This is not an endorsement of the Democratic Party or the political left more broadly, but rather a call to rethink the right so that it remains a productive counterbalance to the generational shift toward the left. It has become increasingly clear that the party that introduced us to politics no longer represents us. The GOP under Trump has lost sight of its values, has failed to engage in productive discourse, and continually neglects policies in the best interests of our country and generation.

By embracing Trumpism, the Republican Party has sacrificed its values and any belief of limited, sensible government. With gross negligence of the rule of law, the president has undermined our nation, which has long stood as a beacon of liberty. He has sought to surgically divide the nation by embracing the tribalism that confuses political opponents with personal foes. Rather than heeding the advice of advisors and experts, the president has taken the dangerous approach of undermining the hard work of civil servants.

Thus, the reality of short-term electoral calamity for Trumpism is a moral responsibility for our generation. Not only must we reject the politics of hate and division, but we must also empower young voices. Our generation cares about climate change. We believe LGBTQ+ people should be free from discrimination in our laws and in our social circles. We believe that immigrants help uphold the vibrant American tapestry. And, we believe that while there will be policy differences, there should be a basic set of facts that the American people can accept as we tackle the issues of our time.

The current embrace of gaslighting and near-sighted thinking has torn our party apart over simple realities and facts. How is our party supposed to engage in discourse over policy-making if we cannot even come to an agreement on what the facts are in the first place? For too long, our party has failed our generation on the issues that affect us most.

Gen Z needs a palatable alternative to the political left, which today’s GOP has failed to provide. Notably, the conversation around climate change within the party needs to move past whether it exists or not to how we can offer realistic, innovative solutions as an alternative to the infeasibility of the Green New Deal. If the GOP continues down this path of rejecting facts and consequently failing to offer up forward-looking policy solutions, Gen Z voters will increasingly feel pressured to move further left.

This is why we are launching “gen z gop.” We seek to provide a platform for other Gen Z Republicans who have felt ostracized by the GOP under Trump, and who seek to provide a new vision for the party’s future.

It’s up to our generation to chart a new vision for the future of the GOP and the country. With a new approach, we can truly achieve greatness in the future. Together.

Reframing “Ethnic Conflict” as “Politicized Ethnic Conflict”

Currently, “ethnic conflict” appears to be a useful label for understanding political and social violence around the world. One only needs to search for this term on an academic search engine or database to notice the plethora of studies and articles surrounding this topic. This paper strives to reframe the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” in order to more accurately reflect both the ultimate and proximate causes of this type of violence. By using literature on ethnic conflict and politicized ethnicity, along with the comparative cases of Kenya and Tanzania, this paper argues for the incorporation of the term “politicized ethnic conflict” into the literature since it is evident that politicized ethnicity ultimately drives many instances of ethnic conflict, with ethnic difference serving as a proximate cause and delineator. 

While the apparent status quo in academia remains that  “ethnic conflict” as a term is useful, maintenance of this term is misguided. By employing this term, one implicitly argues that ethnicity is the main determinant and driver of conflict in absolute terms, or at least neglects to dispel this notion. Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that there is no consistent effect on the likelihood of civil conflict associated with variation in ethnic homogeneity. Additionally, Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that even areas where ethnic grievances are strongest, civil conflict is not more likely (Fearon & Laitin, 2003). This evidence indicates that ethnic grievances themselves are not sufficient to cause ethnic violence. The examples of Kenya and Tanzania support these findings against ethnicity as an ultimate determinant of civil, ethnic conflict. Malipula states that the literature on ethnic conflict has failed to explain why some heterogeneous countries such as Tanzania have not experienced ethnic conflict, while Ajulu argues that ethnic clashes in Kenya “are not tribal conflicts in the primordial sense” (Malipula, 2014) (Ajulu, 2002, p. 251). Although ethnicity is not the ultimate cause of “ethnic conflict” (in most cases), it is misguided to remove the “ethnic” characterization from the terminology addressing these types of conflict.

Eliminating ethnicity from the terminology of these types of conflicts entirely negates the role that ethnicity plays in delineating belligerents and serving as a direct motivating factor for violence. Brubaker and Laitin define ethnic violence as “violence perpetrated across ethnic lines, in which at least one party is not a state … and in which the violence is coded as having been meaningfully oriented in some way to the different ethnicity of the target” (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998, p. 428). Similarly, Fearon states that “a violent attack might be described as ‘ethnic’ if either (a) it is motivated by animosity towards ethnic others; (b) the victims are chosen by ethnic criteria; or (c) the attack is made in the name of an ethnic group” (Fearon 2008, p. 857). Both of these characterizations of ethnic violence do not maintain that ethnicity must be the ultimate cause and driving factor of violence, but rather that any conflict delineated by ethnicity should rightfully be described as “ethnic.” In numerous instances of civil conflict, it is blatantly evident that belligerents are structured according to ethnicity, and that many individuals commit violent acts specifically against people of other ethnicities (e.g. Rwandan genocide). In Kenya, there have been ethnically motivated clashes in the 1990s and notably in 2007 (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). While these clashes occurred in the context of political contests, this fact does not negate that the proximate delineator and motivation of the violent acts was ethnic difference. Therefore, the maintenance of “ethnic” in describing these types of conflict is necessary, but a better framework and terminology would incorporate the role of politicized ethnicity in driving conflict. 

Reframing the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” would result in a more accurate characterization of these conflicts that incorporates both their ultimate cause (politicized ethnicity) and proximate cause (ethnic difference). This approach neither overemphasizes the causal role of ethnicity in driving conflict nor neglects the role of ethnicity entirely, but rather makes the terminology more accurate and nuanced. Fearon introduces the concept of politicized ethnicity by stating that “ethnicity is politicized when political coalitions are organized along ethnic lines, or when access to political or economic benefits depends on ethnicity” (Fearon, 2008, p, 853). The politicization of ethnicity uncovers the ultimate source and political driver of ethnic conflict. Brubaker and Laitin explain that conflicts driven by political power struggles are framed in ethnic terms, thus demonstrating the causation from politicized ethnicity to violence delineated by ethnic difference (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998). One mechanism that exemplifies this causation is that ethnic conflict can occur when a minority ethnic group (which also serves as a political coalition) believes that its ability to fight for a better political outcome will decline in the future, demonstrating how political conflict takes on ethnic hues when political coalitions are divided along ethnic lines (Fearon, 2008). 

From a comparative perspective, Kenya and Tanzania demonstrate how politicized ethnicity serves as the key driver of ethnic conflict. In Kenya, there is high politicization of ethnicity (politics strongly divided along ethnic lines), while in Tanzania it is low (ethnicity plays little to no role in politics) (Weber, 2009). In fact, ethnicity has emerged as the preeminent factor in political competition in Kenya, thereby giving new and invigorating social salience to these identities (Ajulu, 2002). Therefore, when considering the lack of politicized ethnicity in neighboring Tanzania, it becomes evident why Kenya has experienced bouts of ethnic conflict while Tanzania has not. Rok Ajulu provides evidence to this causal relationship in the Kenyan context, describing how ethnic clashes are politically organized, and how oftentimes these conflicts are precipitated by political elites who use ethnic differences simply as an organizing principle to achieve their own political ends (e.g. by dividing the electorate along ethnic lines and establishing political rents) (Ajulu, 2002) (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). On the contrary, the lack of politicized ethnicity in Tanzania means that violent confrontations between ethnic groups have been kept to a bare minimum (Cocodia, 2008).

Much of the current literature regarding whether “ethnic conflict” is a useful analytical label falls into polar opposite camps: those (often implicitly) regarding “ethnic conflict” as a useful term, and those pushing for the removal of the term in its entirety. Both of these approaches are misguided and fail to incorporate the nuances of what has historically been labeled “ethnic conflict.” The status quo camp, which supports the use of “ethnic conflict” in analytical terminology, fails to highlight the political considerations that serve as the ultimate drivers of ethnic conflict. As demonstrated above, ethnic difference does not cause ethnic conflict in its own right, and thus this terminology mischaracterizes the true causes and mechanisms of ethnic conflict.

The revisionist camp, which seeks to eliminate “ethnic conflict” as an analytical label, similarly fails to highlight an aspect of ethnic conflict, which in this case is ethnic difference. In “Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict,” Gilley argues that ethnic conflict is not a concept, but rather a “messy descriptive label for a bunch of unrelated phenomena,” partially because what defines “ethnic conflict” is too vague in the first place (Gilley, 2004, p. 1161). While Gilley may be correct in that ethnic conflicts are not uniform in characterization, this does not support the complete elimination of the term “ethnic conflict” to explain conflicts in which they all have the same feature in common: violence delineated by ethnic difference. By assenting to Gilley’s suggestion, the critical aspect of ethnic difference in these conflicts disappears, running counter to Gilley’s intention of trying to better understand these conflicts. 

Another scholar in the revisionist camp, Charles King, concedes slightly more to the benefits of the “ethnic conflict” label, but ultimately argues against it. King writes that “the ‘ethnic conflict’ label is fine as an easy shorthand for wars in which the belligerents define themselves, in part, along cultural lines,” highlighting the distinction between wars delineated/not delineated along ethnic lines (King, 2001). However, King does not uphold this term for its rightful reason of inclusion: the fact that ethnic difference serves as a proximate driver of conflict, not just a delineator. It is one thing to only acknowledge that belligerents are divided along ethnic lines; it is another (and more accurate) to also acknowledge that people are mobilized to participate in acts of violence against people of other ethnic groups because of ethnic difference. If a combatant in an ethnic conflict is driven to believe that members of another ethnic group are the enemy and consequently resolves to acts of violence against them, it matters not why he believes this (e.g. political mobilization of ethnicity) or whether the other ethnic group truly is the enemy. If people are still committing acts of violence along ethnic lines, then dispelling with the notion that ethnic difference plays a unique role in these conflicts is truly misguided. Further, King argues that viewing ethnic conflicts as essentially different from other intra-state conflicts can be misleading, citing two reasons: ethnic grievances can be manufactured, and symbolically-created hatred is insufficient to cause violence (King, 2001). His first reason does not provide a sufficient explanation for why “ethnic conflict” should be eliminated as a concept entirely; while King is correct in that these ethnic grievances are often manufactured, that does not negate the fact that in some conflicts people are inspired to and do commit violence against members of other ethnic groups specifically, while in other conflicts this is not the case. King’s second reason similarly fails to negate the fact that people are still committing violence along ethnic lines, regardless of the political and leadership mechanisms required to spur this action. Therefore, King’s assertion that ethnic conflicts are not essentially different from other intra-state conflicts is misguided, and could lead to serious policy consequences in terms of conflict resolution. Although King’s two lines of reasoning do not support the elimination of “ethnic conflict” as an analytical concept in its entirety, they do support the incorporation of political elements in the analytical understanding of ethnic conflict. 

This paper has demonstrated that the question of whether “ethnic conflict” remains useful as a label for understanding political and social violence is nuanced due to the role that the politicization of ethnicity plays as an ultimate cause of many ethnic conflicts, and uses the comparative examples of Kenya and Tanzania to ground these arguments. From an analytical perspective, in order to improve understanding of the ultimate causal factors and mechanisms for these conflicts without losing sight of the importance that ethnic difference plays as a proximate cause and delineator, the term “politicized ethnic conflict” should arise as an analytical label. 

Bibliography

Ajulu, R. (2002). Politicised Ethnicity, Competitive Politics and Conflict in Kenya: A Historical Perspective. African Studies, 61(2), 251–268.

Brubaker, R., & Laitin, D. D. (1998). Ethnic and Nationalist Violence. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), 423–452. 

Cocodia, J. (2008). Exhuming Trends in Ethnic Conflict and Cooperation in Africa: Some Selected States. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 8(3), 9–26.

Dercon, S., & Gutiérrez-Romero, R. (2012). Triggers and Characteristics of the 2007 Kenyan Electoral Violence. World Development, 40(4), 731–744.

Fearon, J. D., & Laitin, D. D. (2003). Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review, 97(01), 75–90.

Gilley, B. (2004). Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict. Third World Quarterly, 25(6), 1155–1166.

King, C. (2001). The Myth of Ethnic Warfare. Foreign Affairs.

Malipula, M. (2014). Depoliticised Ethnicity in Tanzania: A Structural and Historical Narrative. Afrika Focus, 27(2), 49–70.

Weber, A. (2009). The Causes of Politicization of Ethnicity: A Comparative Case Study of Kenya and Tanzania. Center for International Studies.Weingast, B. R., Wittman, D. A., & Fearon, J. D. (2008). Ethnic Mobilization and Ethnic Violence. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy.

The Simpler the Better: Choosing Electoral Systems in Democracies

In order to make an argument as to the “best” electoral systems, it is necessary to first contextualize this subjective description. This paper will assess the “best” electoral systems in the context of democracy due to the fundamental necessity of elections in any democratic system. Thus, at the core, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the best electoral systems in a democracy are that which are the simplest to understand in two ways: using a definition of democracy and the paramountcy of accountability, and by assessing the implications of the accountability and representation tradeoff inherent to democratic electoral systems. The argument proceeds as follows: first, the paramount importance of accountability in democratic systems is presented using a definition of democracy; next, using both a generalized theoretical argument and the case of FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, the connection between the simplest electoral systems and enhanced accountability is established, supporting the definitional argument; lastly, this paper proposes that the simplest electoral systems are not only best definitionally, but also in the context of the accountability/representation tradeoff as a function of accountability facilitating the increased ability for citizens to express preferences outside of elections, thus creating better representation. To clarify, although others have addressed the connection between simple executive systems and accountability, this paper will focus on the mechanism of legislative accountability to demonstrate that the simplest electoral systems are best for democracy (Hellwig & Samuels).

While democracy has a variety of definitions and necessary components, accountability is perhaps the most crucial element. Schmitter and Karl define modern political democracy as “a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens,” highlighting the paramount importance of accountability in any democratic system (Schmitter & Karl). Therefore, considering this definition of democracy, deciding which electoral systems are best for democracy equates to finding which electoral systems best promote accountability of politicians. 

In both general theory and through the proxy use of an example electoral system, the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability. According to Hellwig and Samuels, accountability is defined as the “voters’ capacity to reward or sanction incumbents,” and this capacity rests on two sets of conditions: the ability of voters to assign policy responsibility (to specific politicians) and the opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility. In a theoretical sense, the connection between simplicity of electoral systems and enhanced accountability is clear. In simpler systems, more voters will understand (and better understand) how the electoral system functions; as a result of understanding the system, voters are more likely to participate in the system and hold politicians accountable. This correlation exists because understanding facilitates assignment of policy responsibility and the opportunity to act on this determination, the key conditions of accountability. The details of these mechanisms can be explained by employing the example of FPTP, single-member constituencies as a proxy for the simplest electoral system. This proxy is practical because both FPTP and single-member constituencies have been described as extremely simple. Schmitter and Karl argue that the representation channel of democracy based on territorial constituencies is “the most visible and public” (Schmitter & Karl). Visibility and publicity are inherently related to simplicity in this context because like simplicity, they facilitate voters knowing who to hold accountable and provide the opportunity to do so. As for FPTP, Blais and Massicotte bluntly state that such a system “outperforms all other options in terms of its pristine simplicity” (Blais & Massicotte). Further, since Blais et al. and King explain the high correlation between FPTP and single-member constituencies, which are both simple, the electoral system that combines them serves as a proxy to more practically demonstrate the theoretical argument between the simplest electoral systems and accountability (Blais & Massicotte) (King).

Under a FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system, the two accountability conditions are easily achievable. First, it is easier to assign policy responsibility. Under this system, voters have assigned representatives (based on geographic constituencies); thus, responsibility is automatically assigned to that representative because there is an inherent connection between representative and voter. Consequently, a voter can simply decide if they agree or disagree with their representative’s policy decision. In systems where there is not an inherent and established connection between specific voters and representatives, voters may not know who to assign policy decisions to. Further, although a voter’s representative may not have supported a specific policy measure, the voter can still then assign a lack of responsibility for the passing of a certain measure. This situation in which responsibility is negated in a simple and effective manner would not be the case in systems where voters and representatives are not inherently connected. Second, the opportunity to act on this assigned responsibility is also best accomplished under this electoral system. In some ways this condition is endogenous to the previous. For example, by knowing whom to assign responsibility to and thus contact inherently provides the opportunity for such contact to take place. Being unaware of who is responsible (such as in electoral systems without assigned representatives) clearly lessens the opportunity to act on accountability mechanisms. However, the FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system also has an exogenous effect on widespread accountability. As a result of having assigned representatives based on geographic constituency, it follows that a larger number of representatives will be held accountable than in systems where voters do not have assigned representatives. When each representative has a specific constituency, that constituency holds that representative accountable, thus ensuring that no representative can operate without voter oversight. 

The opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility occurs both during and outside elections. In elections, a voter can hold their specific representative accountable by either voting for or against them, while in systems without assigned representatives and party list voting for example, it is more difficult to hold individual politicians accountable for their policies. Outside of elections, voters can contact their assigned representatives; such contact is less likely in other electoral systems because it would be less clear who to contact and because the voter lacks an established connection with the representative. Therefore, it is clear that in FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, accountability is easier to achieve. And, since this type of electoral system is widely considered the simplest, it provides concrete evidence to the aforementioned theoretical argument that the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability. Lastly, because accountability is perhaps the most paramount aspect of democracy according to the cited definition, it follows that since the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability, that they are consequently the best electoral systems for democracy definitionally. However, not only are the simplest electoral systems best for democracy definitionally, but also by providing the best overall outcome in the accountability and representation tradeoff.

While it was established earlier that accountability is paramount to the definition of democracy, many other scholars discuss the counterbalancing relationship between accountability and representation as crucial factors in a democratic system. In a blog post entitled “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems,” the author identifies the tradeoff between accountability and representation as fundamental to democracy, but also challenging in terms of choosing an electoral system. The author states that the tradeoff in terms of electoral system choice is that plurality systems (likely paired with single-member constituencies) are better at providing accountability, while PR systems are better at providing representation Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems). However, the argument that PR systems better provide representation is misguided because it solely focuses on representation in terms of translating votes to seats. In this sense, there is little doubt that PR systems better represent the preferences that voters wish to express during elections. But what about the ability of voters to express preferences outside of elections? Does that not constitute representation? In fact, expressing preferences outside of elections may be more important since there are more days without elections than with them, especially when incorporating the notion that “modern democracy … offers a variety (added emphasis) of competitive processes and channels for the expression of interests and values” (Schmitter & Karl). Considering this, the simplest electoral systems (e.g. FPTP, single-member constituency systems) actually lead to better representation across time via increased accountability and contact. As stated before, in the simplest systems, voters are more likely to know who to contact and follow through on it; this demonstrates that the simplest electoral systems better facilitate the expression of voter preferences outside the context of elections. While in PR systems the timeshot expressions of preferences (votes) may be better represented, PR systems are less receptive to representing voter preferences outside of elections. Consequently, because FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems can better represent voter preferences outside of elections and are superior in accountability, the tradeoff outcome rests favorably with such systems. And, because it has been demonstrated that FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems are arguably the simplest, it follows that the simplest electoral systems result in the best tradeoff outcome between accountability and representation, two key factors of democracy. 

While Pippa Norris may argue that there is no best electoral system, this paper has demonstrated that when accounting for democracy definitionally (paramountcy of accountability) and in providing the best outcome of accountability and representation, that it is possible to determine which electoral systems are best for democracy (Norris). Therefore, because the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability and result in the best accountability/representation tradeoff, it is evident that the the best electoral systems (for democracy) are the ones that are simplest to understand.  

Bibliography

Blais, André, and Louis Massicotte. “Electoral Systems.” In Comparing Democracies 2: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting, 2nd ed., 40–69. London: Thousand Oaks, 2002. 

Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels. “Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1 (January 2008): 65–90. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007123408000045

King, Charles. “Electoral Systems.” Georgetown University, 2000. http://faculty.georgetown.edu/kingch/Electoral_Systems.htm.

Norris, Pippa. “Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems.” International Political Science Review 18, no. 3 (July 1997): 297–312. https://doi.org/10.1177/019251297018003005

Schmitter, Philippe C, and Terry Lynn Karl. “What Democracy Is … and Is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2, no. 3 (1991): 75–88. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/225590/pdf

Unknown. “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems.” Unparliamentary Affairs. University of British Columbia, June 28, 2016. https://blogs.ubc.ca/unparliamentary/2016/06/28/representation-accountability-and-electoral-systems/

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. 

Bibliography

Ahmad, Muhammad Idrees. The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

Bush, George W. “2002 State of the Union Address.” Speech. Accessed December 2, 2018. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html.

Cramer, Jane K., and A. Trevor Thrall, eds. Why Did the US Invade Iraq? London: Routledge, 2012.

Flibbert, Andrew. “The Road to Baghdad: Ideas and Intellectuals in Explanations of the Iraq War.” Security Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 310-52. Accessed November 13, 2018. doi:10.1080/09636410600829570.

Gordon, Michael R., and Bernard E. Trainor. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Hanson, Victor Davis. “Why Did We Invade Iraq?” National Review, March 26, 2013.

Heinrich, Markus Nikolas. “One War, Many Reasons: The US Invasion of Iraq.” E-International Relations Students, March 9, 2015. Accessed November 4, 2018. https://www.e-ir.info/2015/03/09/one-war-many-reasons-the-us-invasion-of-iraq/.

McNeill, Daniel. “Why Was Iraq Invaded in 2003?” Undergraduate Journal of Politics and International Relations, March 13, 2018. Accessed November 13, 2018. https://www.ujpir-journal.com/articles/10.5334/ujpir.14/.

Record, Jeffrey. Wanting War: Why the Bush Administration Invaded Iraq. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2010.

Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. NY: Penguin Press, 2006.

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004

Over the Years: A Brief Summary of My Political Journey

My first political memory was of the 2004 presidential election, and from that point on, politics became my obsession. I remember asking my fellow preschoolers whether their parents were supporting Bush or Kerry. By 2008, after reading articles about different issues and how elections worked, I had a slightly better sense of where I leaned politically, but not enough to have legitimate conversations about them.

In 2010, Massachusetts had a US Senate election; I wanted to see what it was like from the grassroots, so I begged my mom to bring me to the Scott Brown’s campaign office in Framingham. When we got there, I was enamored by all the big signs, phones, and optimism that gave the office a unique charisma.

2012 was the first national election that I followed religiously. I remember talking with my friends at school, which taught me firsthand that most kids don’t care about or understand politics. I learned more every day by reading and talking to adults, two activities crucial to my understanding today.

Governor Charlie Baker’s victory in 2014 cemented my desire to understand and be involved in the political world. He embodies collaboration and compromise, and I respect how well and effectively he manages the state government. During his governance, I have become involved in state politics. I’m able to understand why certain Democrats chose him over their own party’s nominee, and why many conservative Republicans didn’t vote for him at all. I know which towns lean one way and which towns swing. I’ve learned how to navigate the vibrant emotions of election season when I interact with voters.

Today, I’m involved with elections, legislation, activism, and engagement. I’ve learned how to address certain crowds of people depending on their beliefs and how to effectively testify for a bipartisan bill I support. I’ve learned how to encourage youth to play more active roles in their communities. Combining all the small “talents” I’ve picked up along the way creates the talent of being a successful political activist. That’s my greatest talent, and I’m still just getting started.

Politics: Misconstrued and Underdiscussed

Sounds of excited students awaiting Christmas vacation rang throughout the lobby as my friends and I were debating the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, health care reform, the role of government in general, and even how young people would affect the presidential election just eleven months away.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “This should be a club that has an actual classroom and set topics.” Not only would founding PolitiX Club provide a better space to engage in political discourse, but it would also educate less politically aware students. The election was always a hot topic, but when it came to discussing actual policy, many students were unexposed to the current facts and proposals from various sides of the political spectrum.

As club president, I was torn between topics week to week. Some easy topics were sure to attract many more students, those that were certainly popular in the halls of a high school: gun control, abortion, and marijuana legalization. But what about the role of the US in a foreign genocide, the ramifications of net neutrality, and the intricate details of the tax code? “That’s too boring,” many would say when I announced one of these topics on a Monday afternoon. I believe what made these topics “boring” was that they were underdiscussed, nuanced, complicated, and required deep exploration of detailed facts to discover where one stands on the particular issue.

While club attendance was lower when we broke down tax rates and deductions, it was this type of underdiscussed topic that created productive and insightful discussion. Coming in with a fresh mind, unable to pick a verbal fight, allowed students to form their own opinions and have meaningful discussions. But, outside the walls of our club’s classroom, these crucial discussions were rare.

It’s always seemed counterproductive to me that at school, a supposed center for academic learning, real world awakening, and productive discussion, politics is suppressed. It’s like an evil spirit that lingers among minds and builds barriers of distrust and separation. It causes fists to clench and mouths to seal shut as verbal opinions stick to the tips of tongues. The unwritten rules and taboos dominate in the spirit’s presence, often overpowering it and keeping it away, creating an ignorant fantasy that the tension doesn’t exist.

Political conversations are not easy. It’s safer to bring up football scores or tell childhood stories over Thanksgiving dinner. But how productive and necessary are those conversations compared to politics? The foundation of our American republic relies on openly discussed political ideas. Our system exists to promote the rights and will of the people, but the people often choose communicative security over freedom and progress. Our own representatives in Congress often choose to only promote bills in line with their own party ideologies in order to pass easy and quick “solutions” because they’re terrified of admitting they’re wrong, and terrified of bipartisan dialogue and compromise.

Progress cannot occur without widespread and productive discussion. Politics has the ability to save and improve lives; it affects every single one of us, and ignoring it only allows others to dictate our lives and futures. It’s my mission to empower my generation to become active citizens and to enlighten young people of the immense capabilities we have to progress if we simply discuss politics openly and collaboratively.

I created PolitiX Club at my school to provide students with a firsthand, positive experience of discussing issues affecting our generation. From creating our own gun-related bills to discussing possible compromises on health care reform, PolitiX Club has boldly lived true to its mission. Empowering the youth and encouraging political activism is my passion because I firmly believe that my generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the world. Bringing this passion to my own school community and eventually college will help inspire my peers to learn, understand, and engage in a way that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.

Article: Students push for education about government

Excited to get behind House Bill 2016! Here is the link to the article.

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While I firmly believe that our generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the political world, students must be aided by civics education and engagement. Without an apt knowledge and understanding regarding how our political system works, it will be very difficult to make the changes needed for progress and cooperation in the years to come.