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

The Executive, the Magistrate, and the Maverick

Luis da Vinha and Anthony Dutton

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.
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12. Conclusion: The Executive, the Magistrate, and the Maverick


12 Conclusion: The Executive, the Magistrate, and the Maverick

Over the years, scholars have increasingly relied on the conceptual models developed by Richard Tanner Johnson and by Alexander George, among others, to understand and explain how American presidents manage their advisory systems. Research on the modern U.S. presidency has tended to assign one of these models to each president, emphasizing how these structures and processes influenced policy-making. We commonly find references to presidents employing either a competitive, formalistic, or collegial model. However, as Alexander George and Andrew Bennett (2005: 98) have argued, “When academic scholars attempt to reconstruct how and why important decisions were made, they tend to assume an orderly and more rational policymaking process than is justified.”

Our research confirms that conceptual models deviate from the day-today practice of presidential decision-making and at times ignore the complex dynamics involved in foreign policy-making. However, this does not imply we should scrap the conceptual models. Quite the contrary, as the case studies in this book illustrate, they provide an important conceptual analytical framework. In other words, they offer a starting point for analyzing how presidents organize their advisory systems and make decisions. They help us identify structures and relationships that are essential to understanding the dynamics involved in the decision-making processes. They also offer insights that allow for the identification of significant deviations from the standard cases of foreign policy decision-making.

In this final chapter, we briefly review the main findings involving each president’s...

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