Somin Joins Libertarian Forum on Lessons of the Second Gulf War

Writing in an online libertarian forum on the lessons of the Second Gulf War, Professor Ilya Somin says, "We may ultimately conclude that the Iraq war was a failure. But any general prescriptions for American foreign policy must be based on a much broader assessment of relevant history and political economy."

Somin points out that ten years after the start of the Iraq war, there is little consensus on its lessons, with both critics and defenders of the war expressing valid points. 

"On balance, I think that both America and Iraq are, overall, better off for having removed Saddam than either would be if the U.S. had left his regime in power," Somin says. "But this judgment rests on difficult-to-assess counterfactuals about what the world would be like had the U.S. and its allies acted differently in 2003. The same is true of the opposite position, which implicitly rests on the assumption that a world in which the U.S. did not invade Iraq would have turned out better. Neither side in the debate has an airtight case."

"Given that reality, we should be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions about the proper future policy for the United States," Somin concludes.

The Iraq War: 10 Years Later,, March 19, 2013. Moderated by Matthew Feeney.

Libertarians, in particular, should resist concluding that the failures of the Iraq war prove that we should never go to war except in response to an actual or imminent attack. As I have explained more fully elsewhere, there is a serious libertarian case for a more active military policy. The Iraq war actually strengthens that case in one sense. The 2006 and 2008 elections showed that the voters notice military failure and punish it at the ballot box. This contrasts with many less-visible forms of government failure that are often ignored because of widespread political ignorance. Although far from ideal, democratic leaders’ incentives to avoid failure in war are much stronger than in most other areas of public policy."

Read the full post in the online forum