Toppling Foreign Governments: The Logic of Regime Change, Melissa Willard-Foster

Alexander B. Downes
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Spring 2020
Academy of Political Science
The rapid-fire overthrow of the theocratic Taliban regime in Afghanistan (2001) and Saddam Hussein’s Baathist dictatorship in Iraq (2003) by the United States—and the disastrous aftermaths of those and other recent interventions (such as the ouster of Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011)— has sparked popular and scholarly interest in the causes and consequences of foreign-imposed regime change (FIRC). One of the enduring puzzles about FIRCs is that, as highlighted in Melissa Willard-Foster’s terrific book Toppling Foreign Governments, three-quarters of them are carried out by great powers against minor powers in situations of extreme power asymmetry. “Though this asymmetry of power makes an imposed change feasible,” writes Willard-Foster, a political scientist at the University of Vermont, “it should also make that change unnecessary” because “militarily weak leaders who are bereft of allies should back down when confronted by stronger states” (pp. 2–3). The 133 regime changes in Willard-Foster’s study, however, testify that the weak regularly defy the strong—and pay the price for it.
Foreign Policy, Government, Regime Change, Political Science
Political Geography
Afghanistan, Iraq, United States of America