Elite Networks, Cultural Fluency, and Epistemic Authority in the Making of Regime Change in Iraq

Wisam Alshaibi, UCLA

Scholars have cited threats to US national security and declining US hegemony as central determinants of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the dominant accounts do not explain a more fundamental question about how an overt policy of regime change emerged as the official foreign policy objective of the United States despite the unpopularity and extremity of such an objective throughout much of the 1990s. I highlight the crucial role played by the exiled Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein in shaping the thinking of the future leadership of the George W. Bush administration to see regime change in Iraq as rational, necessary, and worth fighting for. I offer an account which emphasizes (1) elite networks; (2) cultural fluency; and (3) epistemic authority as key explanatory factors driving the adoption of US-led regime change in Iraq. Using novel archival records and 80 interviews with the architects of US foreign policy on Iraq, the paper revises our understanding of the worst foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam war and contributes to sociological research on transnationalism and state power and the historical sociology of foreign policy.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 26. Sovereignty as a Cultural Project