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The Role of Personality in Us Foreign Policy Essay

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Updated: Sep 25th, 2021

The effect of personality on US foreign policy is as great as the concerned president is influenced by events that shaped his personality when he was growing up. According to Hanami, psychological personality has indeed determined the ideological stance from which

Various US presidents have been operating while exercising their presidential duties.

Hanami finds an example in Reagan’s extreme conservative stance in foreign policy. Reagan was devoted to combating communism and détente was not enough for him to judge that the world order is safe and stable. Unraveling the underlying psychological mechanisms behind this, one finds that Reagan looks onto the US fight against communism as a grand cause. The antagonism towards the USSR is a projection of the hidden anger that has been building up within him while growing up, especially against his father.

Reagan grew up in a poor and unstable family. The greater part of the unpleasant upbringing he blames onto his father. Reagan’s relationship with US wars overseas is that of someone who looks at them as an opportunity to participate in noble causes and take part in bringing in some order into the world. Hence, as controversial as Vietnam War was, he was eager to participate in it and believed that it was a heroic war. From all of this, Reagan’s conservative worldview has emerged and built up. He sought an order in Vietnam War. He sought heroism and found it in combating communism.

George Stoessinger is an important IR theorist who believes that the personal overlaps with the political. Stoessinger believes that many wars have occurred because of the personal attributes of the concerned leader, and not merely due to the unfolding of events. Under this, one finds George Bush’s war in the Middle East.

George Bush has typically fallen in a wrong misperception of war. Bush has fallen at least in 3 misperceptions in his war in the Middle East, notably, the war in Iraq: unwarranted optimism, mistake enemy’s intentions, and Misjudge enemy’s power. These misperceptions have nothing to do with the objective events out there, they pertain mainly to the personality of Bush. Bush was an optimist about the War in Iraq, so he initiated it thinking it will not last for long but would bring order and would establish Good as opposed to Evil that Saddam Hussein embodied.

On the other end of the spectrum, US foreign policy has witnessed the avail of such leaders as Bill Clinton who approached the world differently. Clinton has adopted an approach whereby he avoids individualist foreign policy. He believes in cooperation with the UN, for instance. His vice president, Al Gore, prefers to work through UN, ‘sub-contracting US Foreign Policy to Kofi Annan. Hence, under the Clinton administration, the US intervened in Iraq in 1991 but with an international coalition, under UN auspices.

Group has been a trait of Clinton’s policy because it is part of his personality. Clinton always adopted a somehow diplomatic stance, including working in alliances in foreign policy. This approach probably stems from his upbringing. As a child, he had to play the role of compromiser between his mother and stepfather. The relationship between his parents was particularly difficult because of his stepfather’s drinking habits.

A major token on the influence of personalities on decisions has been underlying the evolvement of NSC, which is an important instrument of US foreign policy. Reviewing the history of the Policy Review Group, a sub-organ of the NSC that plays an advisory role, shows that the PRG has been used by many presidents for their own sake of exerting leadership. The way NSC has been consulted reflects the president’s approach, which would explain, for example, why under George W. Bush’s administration, the NSC would meet twice daily- instead of bi-weekly- to discuss terrorism.

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