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Presidential Beliefs, Advisors’ Capacities, and the Formulation of Intervention Policy


ABSTRACT: This dissertation investigates the psychological and rational factors that undergird American presidents’ foreign intervention decisions. While conventional international relations scholarship generally overlooks micro-level variables, decades of psychologically-based research into leaders’ foreign policy decision-making has proven a rich area of study. Even though the psychological approach has enriched International Relations scholarship, it often does so without considering the rational factors that also affect decision-making. This dissertation seeks to bridge that divide by exploring the psychological and rational dynamics within a “foreign policy team,” comprised of an American president and his/her chosen advisors, that influence a president’s decisions of whether and how to intervene in foreign crises. I introduce a new theory which forwards that intervention decisions emerge from the interactions between a president’s beliefs about a particular intervention and a foreign policy team’s relevant expertise and their ability to learn from and adapt to a conflict as it evolves. In pursuit I conduct a quantitative study of president’s predilections towards conflict initiation based on their personal experiences of wars and two qualitative comparative case studies which examine Presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton’s handling the civil war in Bosnia and humanitarian intervention in Somalia.

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