In the Boston Review, a well-argued opening piece by Alexander B. Downes that is a "part of Regime Change Doesn’t Work, a forum on the use of military intervention to overthrow foreign governments", followed by variously interesting responses from others in this forum.
Beyond the question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek regime change in yet another country while it continues to clean up the mess from the last two, the Libya adventure begs a reconsideration of the wisdom of regime change in general. Focusing on consequences, I will steer clear of issues of legality and moral justification. Rather, I ask what the historical record tells us about the capacity of externally imposed regime change to bring peace, stability, and democracy to target countries. Is the bloody aftermath of regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq the exception or the rule? Does regime change work?
The short answer is: rarely. The reasons for consistent failure are straightforward. Regime change often produces violence because it inevitably privileges some individuals or groups and alienates others. Intervening forces seek to install their preferred leadership but usually have little knowledge of the politics of the target country or of the backlash their preference is likely to engender. Moreover, interveners often lack the will or commitment to remain indefinitely in the face of violent resistance, which encourages opponents to keep fighting. Regime change generally fails to promote democracy because installing pliable dictators is in the intervener’s interest and because many target states lack the necessary preconditions for democracy.