"I'm the Decider": Understanding Foreign Policy Decisions in America
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Scholars have long been interested in how presidents make decisions in foreign policy. Often, the theories about foreign policy decision making focus on the choice to use or not use one particular foreign policy tool. Many studies often ignore or underplay the importance of domestic politics to foreign policy decisions. In this thesis, I ask how do American presidents choose which foreign policy tool to use in a given situation? I propose a domestic politics-based explanation, relying on presidential ideology, performance of the domestic economy, divided government, and the electoral clock. I use a simultaneous equations framework to model the choice between using "sticks" (i.e. military force and economic sanctions) and "carrots" (economic aid and military aid). The results provide qualified support for the domestic politics theory. Domestic politics matters for some types of foreign policy decisions but not for others. Presidential ideology and domestic economic performance condition presidential decisions to use force. Election timing is also important; presidents choose to use less politically costly foreign policy tools late in their term. The results also demonstrate that there is a connection between the decision to use military force and to use economic sanctions.
Snideman, Samuel S. (2009). "I'm the Decider": Understanding Foreign Policy Decisions in America. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from