Three Approaches to Presidential Foreign Policy-Making in the Twenty-First Century

The Executive, the Magistrate, and the Maverick

by Luis da Vinha (Author) Anthony Dutton (Author)
©2021 Monographs XII, 310 Pages


Political scientists have long determined that a president’s relationships with his advisors is crucial in determining an administration’s policies. Over the last several decades, scholars of the presidency have paid particular attention to the advisory structures and processes involved in foreign policy decision-making. Their work has contributed to the development and refinement of three presidential management models to help frame the analysis of foreign policy-making: (1) formalistic model, (2) collegial model, and (3) competitive model. This book analyzes the management models employed by presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump throughout their presidencies by employing a structured-focus comparison method that is framed on a set of general and standardized questions used to analyze a series of case studies involving their Middle East policies. The book offers the first systematic comparative analysis of presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump’s management of foreign policy crises.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Tables
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction: From “Fire and Fury” to Letters of Love
  • 2. Presidential Management Models
  • Section 1 President George W. Bush
  • 3. “Fuck Diplomacy. We Are Going to War”: The Bush Administration’s Response to the September 11th Attacks
  • 4. “Our War on Terror Is Well Begun, but It Is Only Begun”: The Case for the Invasion of Iraq
  • 5. Going “All In”: Pushing the Surge in Iraq
  • Section 2 President Barack Obama
  • 6. A “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” Moment: Obama’s Surge in Afghanistan
  • 7. Walking and Chewing Gum at the Same Time: Responding to the Arab Spring in Egypt
  • 8. Defining and Redefining the “Red Line” on Syria’s Chemical Weapons
  • Section 3 President Donald Trump
  • 9. The Syrian “Red Line” Redux
  • 10. “Cocked and Loaded”: A Tale of Premature Escalation
  • 11. The World from Mar- a- Lago: Deciding to Kill Qasem Suleimani
  • 12. Conclusion: The Executive, the Magistrate, and the Maverick
  • References
  • Index

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Figure 1 The George W. Bush Foreign Policy Decision-Making Model

Figure 2 The Barack Obama Foreign Policy Decision-Making Model

Figure 3 The Donald Trump Foreign Policy Decision-Making Model

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Table 1 Main Characteristics of the Three Presidential Management Models

Table 2 The George W. Bush National Security Council (2001–2009)

Table 3 The Barack Obama National Security Council (2009–2017)

Table 4 The Donald Trump National Security Council (2017–2021)

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Introduction: From “Fire
and Fury” to Letters of Love

On March 8, 2018, the South Korean national security advisor, Chung Eui-yong, stood on the front lawn of the White House and announced that after briefing President Trump on his recent visit to North Korea, the American president had agreed to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in an effort to achieve an agreement on the denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Shortly afterwards, the White House press secretary issued a statement confirming that the president had agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong Un “at a place and time to be determined” (Horsely and Hu, 2018). Trump himself followed up with a tweet the next day claiming that great progress was being made and that meeting planning was underway (Idem).

The announcement took the world by storm. Never before had a sitting American president and a North Korean leader held a face-to-face meeting – they had not even shared so much as a phone call (Fifield, Nakamura, and Kim, 2018). The revelation was even more remarkable considering the mounting tension between both countries over the previous two years. In fact, in an interview with CBS during his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed that he “would get China to make that guy [Kim Jong Un] disappear in one form or another very quickly” (cited in Johnson, 2016).1 Upon arriving in the White House, Trump promptly requested that the Pentagon develop plans for a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea (Woodward, 2018).

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Over the same period, the regime in Pyongyang ratcheted up its nuclear program. In early-July 2017, North Korea successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which the regime claimed could strike the continental U.S. (Sang-Hun, 2017). American intelligence agencies also concluded that Kim Jong Un’s regime had been able to miniaturize a warhead that could be mounted on the missiles (Baker and Sang-Hun, 2017). Two months later, North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapon in an underground test which experts estimated was up to sixteen times more powerful than any of its previous attempts (Sanger and Sang-Hun, 2017).

As North Korea rattled the international community, the U.S. continued planning and preparations for military action. In October 2017, in accordance with the provisions of the U.S. Operations Plan 5015 (OPLAN 5015), the U.S. Air Force carried out a round of military exercises simulating airstrikes on North Korea (Woodward, 2018). However, while pre-emptive precision strikes could force a leadership change in Pyongyang, military planners informed decision-makers in Washington that only a ground invasion would be capable of guaranteeing the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The risks inherent in such an option were so grave that, after being briefed on the assessment of the plans, a bipartisan group of members of Congress stated that such action “could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions of deaths in just the first few days of fighting” (Pengelly, 2017).

In the meantime, President Trump amplified his warnings to the North Korean regime. In an impromptu statement to reporters on August 8, 2017, the president warned that if North Korea continued to threaten the U.S., they “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” (cited in Baker and Sang-Hun, 2017). Later that week, Trump reiterated his intimidation, tweeting that “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely” (reproduced in BBC News, 2017b). In addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September, Trump again put Pyongyang on notice, calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and stating that “the United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” (cited in Nakamura and Gearan, 2017a). The tit-for-tat of insults and escalatory rhetoric continued throughout the months.

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While many of the president’s supporters hailed his more assertive approach to North Korea, others grew increasingly concerned that the situation might escalate into a military confrontation (Baker, BIB_ch01_0003; Baker and Sang-Hun, 2017). South Korean and Chinese leadership urged both sides to show restraint and find a diplomatic solution to the impasse. U.S. allies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) pressed Trump to roll back the belligerency (Idem). Even within the administration, there were different assessments of the president’s pugnacious rhetoric. For instance, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), General H. R. McMaster, encouraged the president’s aggressive approach. In contrast, the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, was concerned that such truculent posturing by both sides could potentially spiral out of control and lead to war (Woodward, 2018: 279).

Therefore, when on March 8, the South Korean national security advisor came to the White House to inform the administration about his recent meeting in Pyongyang, no one could imagine the ensuing volte-face. That day, Trump had met with representatives from the video game industry and had announced a round of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The president was not scheduled to meet the South Korean delegation. However, after a brief exchange with McMaster, Trump decided to organize a brief meeting with the delegation in the Oval Office. Eui-yong informed the president, McMaster, Mattis, and the White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, about how in his recent meeting with Kim Jong Un the North Korean leader had expressed a “commitment to denuclearization” and extended an invitation to meet with the American president (Fifield, Nakamura, and Kim, 2018). To the surprise of all of those in the room, Trump immediately agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un to discuss an agreement on denuclearization (Cook, Johnson, and Lima, 2018; Liptak, 2018).

After the meeting, administration officials did not provide details on the upcoming talks. Over the next few days, the president’s aides were shy on specifics, but did indicate that Trump would lead the negotiations, expressing confidence in the president’s ability “to make deals” (Fifield, Nakamura, and Kim, 2018). Several commentators attributed the lack of information to the fact that Trump’s impulsive decision confounded his own administration and caught them unprepared (Bennett, 2018; Cha, 2018). As an example, many critics pointed out that the day prior to the announcement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had told reporters that the U.S. and North Korea were still far from commencing negotiations (Sonne and Hudson, 2018). Administration officials countered saying that Trump’s decision to accept the invitation to the talks was part of a broader strategy and not an impromptu response (Mann and Lubold, 2018).

Regardless of the motives, Trump’s decision upended decades of U.S. policy (Nakamura, 2020). Since the North Korean nuclear issue made it onto the U.S. security agenda in the 1980s, American presidents had followed a similar policy, disavowing direct negotiations between the two countries’ leaders.

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The Clinton administration was the first to deal with the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program. While military plans were being developed for a preemptive strike on Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities, former President Jimmy Carter informed the White House that he had reached an agreement for negotiations with the regime’s leader Kim Jong Il (Chollet and Goldgeier, 2008). After several months of negotiations, on October 1994, both parties signed the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework. Under the accord, the North Korean regime committed to suspend its nuclear program and allow for UN inspections in exchange for two light-water reactor nuclear power plants and the delivery of heavy fuel oil (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2018). While the agreement was met with skepticism by many in Washington, it allowed Clinton to claim that it was “a good deal for the United States” and shift his focus to other policy challenges closer to his heart (Clinton cited in Riding, 1994). Over the next few years, the administration tried to secure an additional agreement which would curtail Pyongyang’s missile program and stop it from selling its missile technology to other countries. Despite a moratorium in 1999 on halting its long-range missile tests, no formal agreement was achieved (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2018).

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Upon arriving at the White House, the Bush administration showed no urgency in negotiating with North Korea. Believing that the previous agreement was flawed, and that time was on America’s side, the administration initiated a policy review in its first months in office (Martin, 2007). The review’s proposals were quickly relegated to a secondary position as the September 11, 2001, attacks refocused U.S. policy. Formal contacts were only re-established between the two countries in late-2002 as the U.S. denounced Pyongyang for breaching the Agreed Framework by maintaining a secret uranium enrichment program. When North Korea responded by abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), President Bush took a hard line on North Korea until it would agree to complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament. The administration sought to isolate Kim Jong Il’s regime by refusing to negotiate directly with Pyongyang and offering no concessions until North Korea complied with its demands (Idem). In the summer of 2003, in an attempt to further pressure the regime, the U.S. pressed forward with the “Six-Party Talks” which, besides North Korea and the U.S., included China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. After months of negotiations, in September 2005, Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid, as well as an American guarantee that it would not attack or invade North Korea, and a pledge to begin negotiations over the normalization of relations with the U.S. (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2018). However, North Korea’s missile tests in July 2006 and its nuclear test in October of that same year derailed further progress and led to the unanimous condemnation of the Kim Jong Il regime in the UN Security Council (Martin, 2007).

President Obama also demonstrated restraint in engaging with North Korea.2 Obama asked his advisors if a pre-emptive military strike could eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear program. After assessing the options, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services informed the president that only a ground invasion could guarantee the elimination of all North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile systems (Woodward, 2018). Wary of risking military confrontation with North Korea, the Obama administration followed a policy of “strategic patience” in which the U.S. “would pursue a comprehensive package deal for North Korea’s complete denuclearization in return for normalization of relations and economic aid, but it will not move first” (Kim, 2016: 33). The administration complemented this approach with additional unilateral sanctions on the North Korean regime and robust military exercises with its regional allies (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2018). Despite the prospect of a breakthrough resulting from the 2012 “Leap Day Agreement,” talks rapidly broke down as North Korea continued to pursue its nuclear testing and negotiations stalled (Idem).

The contrast between previous presidents and Trump in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat could not be any greater. All of Trump’s predecessors took a cautious approach to negotiations with Pyongyang and sought to achieve concessions before proclaiming success. Clinton, Bush, and Obama rejected any attempt to directly engage with North Korea’s leadership. Rather, negotiations were carried out by diplomats and other officials, usually in the context of multilateral forums. However, confident in his ability to surmount the challenges of diplomacy, after months of insults and threats, Trump agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong Un without any preconditions. In their first meeting in Singapore in June 2018, Trump argued that by establishing a personal relationship with his North Korean counterpart, both countries could overcome their differences and reach a definitive agreement (Landler, 2018b). The Singapore Summit ended with a vaguely worded joint statement on the establishment of a new relationship between the two nations and a commitment “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” (The White House, 2018b). Nevertheless, President Trump quickly took to Twitter to extol his achievement, claiming that there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea”, adding that “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer – sleep well tonight!” (reproduced in Landler, 2018b).

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Trump continued to believe that his personal relationship with the North Korean leader would suffice in overcoming the impasse. Over the next few months, the president gloated about their regular correspondence and publicly stated that Kim Jong Un “wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters,” adding that “We fell in love” (Trump cited in Rucker and Dawsey, 2019). Despite the reluctance of many U.S. officials, in March 2019, Trump again met with Kim Jong Un to try to hammer out the details of a more specific agreement. However, the Hanoi Summit revealed the gulf between the two nations in terms of what each was willing to concede. North Korea’s proposal to dismantle its nuclear complex in Yongbyon in exchange for the end of the international sanctions on the regime was rejected by the U.S. As a result, the remaining scheduled events of the summit were cancelled as both sides promised to continue negotiations (Sanger and Wong, 2019). In June, Trump met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea’s Demilitarized Zone and told reporters that they had agreed to designate negotiators and assured the world that “A lot of progress has been made, a lot of friendships have been made, and this has been in particular a great friendship” (cited in Baker and Crowley, 2019).

According to Jung Pak (2020: 96), “Between 2017 and 2019, relations between the United States and North Korea made for great television.” However, little was achieved in terms of substance. While Trump continued to boast about his close personal relationship with Kim, the North Korean regime stepped up its belligerent rhetoric and behavior. For instance, Pyongyang continued to develop its nuclear program. In late 2019, North Korea tested the launching of ballistic missiles from a sea-based platform and announced that it would soon reveal a new strategic weapon (Nakamura, 2020; Pak, 2020). In April 2020, on the eve of South Korea’s parliamentary elections, North Korea fired several short-range missiles toward its neighbor’s eastern coast (Sang-Hun, 2020a). In June 2020, two years after the Singapore Summit, Kim Jong Un’s regime officially acknowledged that the diplomatic overtures with the U.S. had failed, stating that “Even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare” (Sang-Hun, 2020b). Days later, North Korea blew up its joint liaison office with South Korea in Kaesong, capsizing the hopeful diplomatic breakthrough both countries had achieved two years earlier. Since then, North Korea has claimed that it will make no more concessions, that any future initiatives belong to the U.S., and reports indicate that Pyongyang has continued to process uranium for as many as 15 new nuclear bombs (Noack, 2020; Warrick and Denyer, 2020). As a result, President Trump’s ambitious gambit did not pay off. Despite his criticism of his predecessors, Trump’s unprecedented and unique approach to the North Korea question proved to be ineffective in achieving the goal of convincing Pyongyang to commit to denuclearization.

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The Importance of Presidential Leadership in Foreign Policy-Making

The fact that three presidents, facing similar international challenges, followed distinctly different courses of action highlights the importance of understanding the decision-making processes that helped each individual president choose his administration’s policy. There are numerous factors shaping U.S. foreign policy such as the international context, the domestic political context, and the governing ideology and philosophy. Yet, as David Rothkopf (2005: 15) notes at the top of the list in terms of importance is the “personality and the ʻsociologyʼ of an administration.” In fact, more than in any other democratic system, the American president assumes a central role in leading the nation’s foreign policy (Greenstein, 2009; Kriner, 2009). Many scholars highlight the unique institutional framework established by the Founders which created a system of a separation of powers among the different branches of government. The powers attributed to the president and to Congress relating to foreign affairs have been a topic of intense scrutiny.3 Scholars have traditionally argued that the American Constitution created a system in which the Executive and Legislative branches of government would have to engage with each other to define and implement U.S. foreign policy. However, several recent studies argue that this balance has increasingly come undone, as Congress has willingly relinquished its role in foreign policymaking or become incapable of challenging presidential initiatives (Adler, 2006; Goldgeier and Saunders, 2018; Ornstein and Mann, 2006; Schlesinger Jr., 2004). There is a growing body of evidence that attests that developments in recent decades have strengthened the president’s role in defining U.S. involvement in international affairs, making “the president the chief executive, the chief diplomat, and if necessary, the chief war maker in the conduct of foreign policy” (McCormick, 2012: 268).

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Naturally, over the years, individual differences among presidents have received significant scholarly attention in order to understand how a president’s unique traits contribute to foreign policy. Fred Greenstein (2009) has identified several qualities which differ between presidents and explain the divergence in policies: proficiency as a public communicator, organizational capacity, political skill, vision of public policy, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. Alexander George (1981: 5) argues that, besides the personality traits of each president, we also need to assess the cognitive beliefs that each individual “has acquired during the course of his education, personal development, and socialization into political affairs.” Thomas Preston (2000) has further included the need to analyze a president’s need for power and policy experience or expertise as essential elements for understanding foreign policy decisions. Moreover, in his seminal work on the American presidency, Richard Neustadt (1990) argued that understanding presidential leadership involves analyzing his capacity to influence others.

However, while acknowledging that the president’s role is paramount, foreign policy decision-making is, ultimately, a collective endeavor (da Vinha, 2017; George, 1981; Hoyt and Garrison, 1997; ’t Hart, Stern and Sundelius, 1997). Since the foundation of the American republic, presidents have sought the counsel of others, namely of cabinet members and other formal and informal advisors. However, over the years, the advisory structures available to the president have grown significantly in size and complexity (Burke, 2009). Not only has the size of the cabinet increased significantly over the decades, but the resources available to the president have also greatly expanded. Beginning with the Reorganization Act of 1939, the Employment Act of 1946, and the National Security Act of 1947, the presidency was transformed into an institution in its own right, with thousands of staffers and aides which led to a greater centralization of the policymaking process within the White House4. Thus, as the presidential scholar John Burke (Burke, 2014: 367) duly explains, “The most obvious management task a president faces is to recognize on first being elected that organizing and staffing the White House are matters of highest priority.”

The president has significant flexibility and discretion in organizing his advisory system. Each president implements an advisory system that he believes best suits his unique requirements and objectives and, thus, reflects his particular leadership style (Hermann and Preston, 1994). More precisely:

Presidents enjoy unusual degrees of freedom in organizing the White House staff (including that of the NSC), in determining the degree and means through which the cabinet and others might be incorporated into their decision making, in establishing whether there will be outside channels of information and advice, in deciding their own settings for making policy choices, and even whether organizational structures and processes have much bearing on their own final decisions. (Burke, 2005: 252)

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There are several different presidential management models that identify different strategies presidents employ to manage the foreign policy decision-making process. The three most cited models applied to U.S. foreign policy are the competitive model, the formalistic model, and the collegial model (George, 1981; Johnson, 1974). In the competitive model, the president consciously encourages competition and conflict among his advisors and heads of cabinet. In this model, communication or collaboration among the advisors is limited as the president occasionally interacts directly with subordinate departmental officials in order to acquire independent advice and information. The formalistic model relies on a hierarchical flow of information and advice to the president from his advisors and cabinet heads. The formalistic model encompasses a division of labor based on the functional expertise of each department or agency. In this case, the president does not circumvent cabinet heads by reaching down to subordinates for advice, but rather keeps to officially ordered channels. Moreover, interaction between advisors is not encouraged, leaving the president to assume the responsibility of synthesizing the specialized information received. Finally, the collegial model has traditionally been represented as a hub-and-spoke model in which the president is at the center of the decision-making process encouraging advisors to interact with him and each other. This model is the closest to group problem solving, for advisors debate amongst each other to arrive at the best possible policy solution. Hence, information is acquired from multiple sources and advisors are encouraged to act as generalists, rather than as departmental specialists or experts. The collegial model envisions more informal procedures than the previous arrangement which allows for the president to sporadically interact with subordinate officials for obtaining more information and advice.

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Our research seeks to build and extend on the previous work on presidential management of foreign policy decision-making. While several studies have broadened the original case studies conducted by Richard Tanner Johnson and by Alexander George by encompassing other presidents, few attempts have been made to identify the advisory systems of the American presidents of the twenty-first century – i.e., George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. The studies that have been published on these presidents tend to diverge in their assessments and, in many cases, fail to employ a coherent systematic approach that can illustrate more than discrete instances of foreign policy decision-making and, therefore, hinder the development of a more robust profile of each presidents’ management style. As a result, we can find studies characterizing President Bush’s decision-making style as conforming with the formalistic model (Mitchell and Massoud, 2009) and others that reject the analogy (Pfiffner, 2004a). Similarly, different researchers have claimed that President Obama’s style is analogous both to the competitive model (Rudalevige, 2012) and the collegial model (Pfiffner, 2011). Likewise, some scholars portray President Trump’s style as meeting the standards of the competitive model (Lewis, Bernhard and You, 2018), while others counter by claiming that his unconventional style departs significantly from the traditional models of presidential decision-making (da Vinha, 2019a). The purpose of our research is to try to surmount these shortcomings and provide a more comprehensive and systematic assessment of the management of the foreign policy decision-making processes in the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations and provide a more complete and representative profile of each presidents’ management style.

Comparative Case Studies and Presidential Foreign Policy-Making

This aim of this book is didactic. Both of the authors have dedicated their academic careers to teaching. While each of us maintains an active research agenda, our main focus is on engaging students in the classroom and helping them succeed academically. Between us, we have taught a broad array of courses on American Government, the American Presidency, American Foreign Policy, American History, and International Relations. In these and other courses, we have always emphasized the role of political leaders in defining and shaping policy. True to our grounding in the humanities, we appreciate the differences amongst individuals and how each one brings their own unique personal experience to everything they do. Naturally, in teaching political science courses we discuss with students how each president and their administrations are unique in the way they interpret, define, and implement policy.

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However, finding resources that will allow students to compare and contrast presidential decision-making can be an elusive enterprise. Our predicament is not the lack of bibliographic resources. Quite the contrary. There are numerous excellent monographs on almost each one of the individual cases we analyze in this book, and they are amply referenced throughout. These scholarly texts provide rich and detailed accounts of the main actors, processes, and dynamics underlying some of the most relevant foreign policy decisions in recent American history. However, while rich in detail, most of these books are unsuitable as ancillary texts for undergraduate courses that seek to balance disciplinary breadth with analytical depth. Asking students to read and analyze thousands of pages of bibliographic material to identify and understand the differences in the way presidents make foreign policy is not feasible considering the manner most courses on American government are structured and organized. The discussion of presidential decision-making usually encompasses only a modest portion of a course and, therefore, requires concise and elucidative comparative studies. Accordingly, this book seeks to fill that void and provide students and instructors with an assortment of cases that allow for appraising and comparing the similarities and differences among the twenty-first century American presidents.

In order to assess the management styles of these three presidents, we employ a cross case comparison method. Due to the inherent research question’s explanatory nature – i.e., how did each respective president manage his foreign policy advisory system? – , the use of case studies is the most appropriate approach. According to Yin (1994: 6), questions dealing with why and how “deal with operational links needing to be traced over time, rather than mere frequencies or incidence.” Therefore, comparative case studies allow for a longitudinal analysis of each administration and can reveal any evolution or transformation of a president’s management style over time. This is particularly important since most studies on presidential decision-making tend to focus on discrete policy events or on comparative events in different administrations and, thus, are unable to identify any potential organizational variations over time (Burke, 2009). Moreover, considering the variety of actors involved in the U.S. foreign policy decision-making process, the use of case studies is equally pertinent because, as George and McKeown (1985: 21) argue, “case studies of organizational decision making have long been one of the most important methods by which researchers have investigated organizational behavior and improved their theoretical understanding of that behavior.”

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By employing case studies, we can use a historical analysis of causal assertion. Historical analyses of political phenomena have raised concerns for many political scholars (see Lawson, 2010; Vaughan-Williams, 2005). Political scientists have been particularly critical of the fact that historical case studies “do not lend themselves readily to strict comparison and to orderly cumulation” (George, 2019: 198). However, over the years, historians and political scientists have increasingly used multiple case studies to conduct controlled comparisons (George, 2019; Haney, 2002; Mitchell, 2005b). These cases are constructed and compared using the structured-focus method. As George and Bennet (2005) point out, the method is “structured” because a set of general and standardized questions are used to analyze each individual case and, subsequently, systematically compare the findings of the different cases. The method is “focused” to the extent that it concentrates the analysis only on certain aspects of the cases, namely the interactions and dynamics involved in the decision-making processes.

The questions framing the analyses are:

1) What is the role of the president in the advisory system?

2) What is the role and relationship amongst the advisors in the advisory system?

3) What are the procedures for managing the advisory system?

4) What is the general dynamic of the decision-making process – i.e., what is the overarching pattern of interaction among the decision-makers over time?

These questions provide an opportunity to focus on the central theoretical framework underlying this study and assess the management models employed by each president in formulating his administration’s foreign policy. The first question seeks to assess the style and the level of involvement of each president. In particular, the question seeks to assess if the president centralizes the decision-making process on himself or if he delegates significant functions to his advisors. The question also intends to evaluate if the president encourages any competition or collaboration among his advisors or if he prefers a division-of-labor, leaving the intellectual synthesis of the specialized policy inputs to himself. The second question focuses on the relationship amongst the president’s main foreign policy advisors in an attempt to gauge if they contend for the president’s attention, cooperate in the deliberation process, or if they insulate themselves in terms of the functional expertise of their respective department or agency. The third question analyzes the procedures characterizing the deliberations, namely identifying if main processes involve formal or informal channels of communication and advice. The final question endeavors to identify the overarching pattern of interaction amongst the president, his advisors, and any other individuals or groups providing input for the final decision. In particular, the question provides an opportunity to determine if there were any changes to the president’s decision-making processes over time.


XII, 310
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 310 pp., 3 b/w ill., 4 tables.

Biographical notes

Luis da Vinha (Author) Anthony Dutton (Author)

Luis da Vinha is Lecturer in International Relations at Flinders University. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Coimbra. His research has been published in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Journal of Policy History, Portuguese Journal of Political Science, and the Brown Journal of World Affairs, among others. Anthony Dutton is Professor of History and Chair of the Social Science Department at Valley City State University. He earned his Ph.D. in North American history from North Dakota State University.


Title: Three Approaches to Presidential Foreign Policy-Making in the Twenty-First Century
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