the charisma theory of war
The NATO intervention in Libya has made people ask: Why now? Of all the crazy, genocidal tyrants, why bother with Gadaffi? Here’s my answer: some countries are just annoying. They cultivate a particularly aggravating stance in the global community that just invites retaliation. They are the mosquito in the ears of the powerful and they get swatted.
Of course, this is not a complete account of war. Nations fights wars for all kinds of reasons – genuine security threats, national pride, humanitarian missions, or just grabbing more territory. But a nation’s charisma is also an important factor. Some nations keep doing things that rile the public. In Gaddafi’s case, he engaged in terrorism, allied himself with Hugo Chavez, and tried to usurp Western nations as a patron in Africa.
Like I said, this is by no means a complete account of war making. Other theories, I think, account for more. But charisma does pop up from time to time and it should not be ignored. For example, charisma is definitely a factor in the Iraq War. Saddam Hussein’s anti-Western stance and terrorism overseas eroded what support he had from the US in the 1980s. By 1990, conservative think tanks already had Baathist Iraq in their sights.
Similarly, Iran is frequently targeted. The Iranian regime is clearly evil, but there are all kinds of crazy governments that pose threats. The reason that some Western policy intellectuals focus on Iran is because the regime engages in nasty public displays anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism.
Bottom line: If you are a murderous dictator, we’re more likely to leave you alone if you just keep your mouth shut.