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Snyder et al. on the politics of unipolarity

Why did America invade Iraq? The glib answer is “because it could.” … But this explanation begs the important questions. Disproportionate power allows greater freedom of action, but it is consistent with a broad spectrum of policies, ranging from messianic attempts to impose a new world order to smug insulation from the world’s quagmires. How this freedom is used depends on how threats and opportunities are interpreted through the prism of ideology and domestic politics. In this sense, unipolarity was a permissive cause of the Bush Administration’s preventive war doctrine and its application in Iraq. … During the twentieth century, whether under multi-, bi- or unipolarity, America enjoyed the luxury of disproportionate power and geographical buffering, which allowed—even required—ideology to define America’s strategically underdetermined world role. This ideology was normally liberalism, sometimes that of the disengaged “city on a hill,” sometimes that of the crusading reformer.Writing in the wake of the Vietnam War, Stephen Krasner worried that the more powerful the United States would become, the more this ideological leeway would express itself as imperialism … What changed in 2001 was not just the terrorist attack, but also the ideological and political environment that made the most of it. … Three decades of increasing partisan ideological polarization on domestic issues culminated in the Bush Administration’s extending it into the realm of foreign policy. … Three decades of increasing partisan ideological polarization on domestic issues culminated in the Bush Administration’s extending it into the realm of foreign policy.

Jack Snyder, Robert Shapiro and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon (2006), “Free Hand Abroad: Divide and Rule at Home,” unpublished paper. Available here. Via Andrew Gelman.

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