August, 2016

The Political Economy of the Intervention in the Conflict Against ISIS

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Western elites and the general public agree that foreign intervention is needed to halt the dramatic rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Policymakers hope to militarily defeat ISIS while also resolving the civil crises in Iraq and Syria that allowed the group to flourish. In the economics literature on foreign intervention there is an ongoing debate about whether the approaches suggested for combating ISIS will be successful. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the conversation about Western intervention against ISIS by considering some of the major challenges to achieving this objective from an economic perspective. Adapting a framework used by economist Christopher Coyne and his coauthors for examining the constraints on foreign intervention, I identify three “problems” that policymakers face: (a) the knowledge problem, (b) the coordination problem, and (c) the problem of unintended consequences. Cases of recent foreign interventions in the Middle East provide evidence for why these problems should be taken seriously when formulating policy toward ISIS. I also explore alternative policy options to foreign intervention.