Princeton University Library Catalog

Redefining the Meaning of Success: Learning the Right Lessons From the US Interventions In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

Varrichione, Devon [Browse]
Senior thesis
Kurtzer, Daniel [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
124 pages
Summary note:
The United States’ intervention in the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, the Iraq War of the 2000s, and the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] intervention in Libya in 2011, do not immediately seem to have much in common. Each was conducted in a different era, by different presidents, for different purposes. However, despite the major differences between these interventions, they share a fundamental, important similarity. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, US intervention contributed to instability, chaos and civil war, and within this volatile combination, religious extremism and criminality have flourished. The long-term consequences of these interventions have led many scholars and pundits to caution against future US military intervention in the Middle East. However, complete disengagement from the region is not politically or strategically realistic. In recognition of this fact, this thesis aims to shift the focus of the conversation on this issue, by analyzing the root causes of the instability that developed after each intervention in order to gain insight that can be applied to future engagements. The US intervention in the Soviet-Afghan War, the Iraq War, and the intervention in Libya are the focus of this work, and the three case studies are analyzed extensively in order to identify commonalities. This thesis demonstrates that there are common conditions that exist among the three interventions that this author posits are core reasons for the instability that eventually followed in each case. This thesis extracts lessons from the three interventions in order to suggest a course of action for future presidents. Finally, this thesis argues that even if the immediate outcome of an intervention accomplishes the president's goals—and thus, he or she labels it a success—the failure to anticipate and plan for longerterm consequences can transform short-term success into long-term failure. Therefore, this thesis contends that the United States cannot consider any intervention in the Middle East a success, regardless of whether the stated goal of the intervention is achieved, unless it establishes conditions that allow for long-term stability in the country.