Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
University of Essex & PRIO
The USA arguably emerged as an anti-imperial project, but much of its subsequent foreign policy has actively sought to promote a 'liberal empire', prepared to correct 'chronic wrongdoing' in other societies through military interventions. This book applies political economy concepts to argue that this pursuit of liberal empire has profound negative consequences for both the targets and the US itself, focusing primarily on the post-9/11 period. Coyne argues that the problems faced by the US in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on terror reflect inherent constraints, with aims such as democracy and peace that cannot reliably be pursued in a top-down manner and a failure to recognize potential tensions between objectives, as well as bureaucratic pathologies and capture by special interests. He documents perverse unintended consequences that run counter to liberal values in the targeted states as well as the US itself, with useful detailed reviews of drug eradication efforts and drone warfare. Coyne's discussion of alternatives to empire – focusing on security as co-produced in a bottom-up manner by non-state actors – is interesting, but also much less developed, and unlikely to stem calls for the US to use its military power to 'do something'. The postscript notes that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put an end to reflections of the US failure in Afghanistan and strengthened calls for stronger US containment of Russia and China. However, the analysis in this book provides plausible concerns that problems similar to the Afghanistan experience can lead to important differences between intended and real-world outcomes.