Speaker: Payam Ghalehdar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, International Security Program

With more than two dozen regime change interventions since the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States has been the most prolific regime changer in recent history. Existing studies demonstrate that U.S. regime change has repeatedly failed to advance national security or spread democracy, instead fueling domestic political instability and civil war in target states. This raises a pressing question: why has the United States repeatedly engaged in costly regime change when the practice has been largely ineffective?

This seminar presents a novel argument about U.S. regime change that centers on the emotional state of U.S. presidents. It develops the concept of "emotional frustration," an unpleasant emotional state marked by the perception that the behavior of a target state is driven by anti-American hatred. Emotional frustration produces aggressive tendencies, which impulsively spur the turn to military force and make regime change an attractive tool to strike the target state and relieve frustration.

To illustrate the causal logic of the argument, the seminar examines the decision-making process in the prelude to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic and the George W. Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Explaining the puzzling practice of U.S. regime change, the seminar concludes that although ineffective in bringing about democracy, stability and peace in target states, regime change allows frustrated presidents to effectively ameliorate their emotional state.

Please join us! Coffee and tea provided. Everyone is welcome, but admittance will be on a first come–first served basis.

For more information, email the International Security Program Assistant at susan_lynch@harvard.edu.