Damon Linker rightly decries U.S. policies of regime change:

And now, after so many foolish mistakes and so few signs of self-reflection, we’re contemplating bringing our magic touch to Iran. We really must be out of our minds.

Linker correctly identifies many of the sources of American support for overthrowing foreign governments. Chief among them is our arrogant presumption that we have the right and even responsibility to dictate political outcomes in other parts of the world. To that I would add a few others. Many Americans assume that our interference in the affairs of others is generally benevolent, so they don’t see why it is inherently wrong to try to force political change in someone else’s country. The WWII experience and the mythology woven around that experience have also led many Americans to think that nothing short of total victory and the destruction of a hostile regime is acceptable. U.S. diplomacy is frequently sabotaged by this desire for unconditional surrender in which no compromise is possible.

There is also a tendency to deny other states and peoples agency and legitimate interests of their own, so many Americans assume that U.S. interference is necessary to bring about change and regime change is “necessary” to establish a government in the other country that suits our preferences. Belief in America as the “indispensable nation” and the conviction that our global hegemony is good for the world feed into the idea that any state that resists the latter must be a destabilizing, malign force that needs to be crushed and that the U.S. is the only one capable of doing so. Our culture of threat inflation encourages many Americans to see small and middling pariah states as intolerable menaces that can’t be contained or deterred, and so many of us treat illegal, unjust preventive war as if it were just another policy option. America is the most secure country on earth, but the prevailing expansive definition of “vital interests” makes it seem as if we are constantly imperiled by pathetically weak states that pose no real threat to the United States. On top of that, the government tends to conflate the interests of the U.S. with those of client regimes, and those clients then egg our government on to destroy their regional rivals for them.

Regime change policies produce poor or catastrophic results for the affected countries and the U.S., but many policymakers keep coming back to it again and again because they are addicted to the thrill of “shaping” (dominating) another country, exercising “leadership” (meddling in others’ affairs), and promoting “freedom” (sowing chaos). One group of policymakers will fancy that they are repeating the successes of the WWII generation, and the next will pretend that they are avoiding the blunders of their predecessors, and yet another group will deceive themselves into thinking that they’ve finally cracked the code. “This time will be different,” they’ll say. “This isn’t another Iraq,” they’ll say. “Give destruction and mayhem a chance,” they’ll say. Members of the president’s party will mostly fall in line, and a disturbingly large number of people from the other party will go along with it because they supported something similar when their party was in power. When the latest attempt goes horribly wrong, the regime change advocates will change the subject and blame the people in the “liberated” country for failing to take advantage of the “gift” they have received, and then they will move on to their next victim. The addiction to meddling and coercion is strong, and the current administration is full of regime change addicts looking for their next fix.