May, 2021

The Fatal Conceit of Foreign Intervention

Evidence from the Afghanistan Papers
  • Karras Lambert

    Dissertation Fellow
  • Christopher Coyne

    Associate Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Nathan Goodman

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The fatal conceit of foreign intervention refers to the limitations faced by governments using discretionary power to address perceived problems in foreign societies. Drawing on evidence from the “Afghanistan Papers”—a collection of internal government documents compiled by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and released in December 2019—we demonstrate how the failure of the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan to meet the stated objectives illustrates the fatal conceit of foreign intervention. We explore the limitations faced by foreign government interveners in three stages, reflecting distinct decision nodes within a means-ends framework in which the policies relating to foreign intervention are formulated and implemented.