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Inflection Points: Agenda Setting and American Foreign Policy toward Islamist Groups


This dissertation addresses why U.S. foreign policy toward Islamist groups has varied over time. Although recent scholarship has improved our understanding of how non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, operate, not enough work has attempted to understand how states devise policies toward non-state actors. It builds on previous work to go beyond analyzing U.S. policy toward the broad concept of "Political Islam", and instead addresses U.S. policy over time and toward specific groups. I examine two militant and two nonmilitant case studies: the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian Hamas, and Lebanese Hezbollah. Employing John Kingdon's garbage can model of agenda setting, I argue that variation in U.S. policy toward these groups is a function of policy entrepreneurs linking a new solution (ranging from engagement to confrontation) to a problem (the Islamist group) in the context of policy windows of opportunity. These agenda setting processes explain why U.S. policy toward Islamist groups appears to change suddenly after periods of stasis.

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