Stability and change of foreign policy values among élites: effects of the “9/11 attacks” and second gulf war against iraq on élites' values by Dukhong Kim, Ph. D., Florida Atlantic University-Boca Raton abstract

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by Dukhong Kim, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University-Boca Raton

ABSTRACT: This study addresses the question of how U.S. élites change their belief in foreign policy values in reaction to international events. It uses surveys of U.S. foreign policy élites conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in 1998, 2002 and 2004. The ordinary least square regression was used to estimate the model. The findings are that U.S. élites selectively modify their belief in values in response to international events: élites' partisanship and U.S. decision-making role moderates the effect of political events—“9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and 2003 invasion of Iraq—on their belief in humanitarianism, democracy promotion and militarism. Furthermore, these two elements simultaneously moderate the effect of events on their belief in supporting humanitarianism and, to a lesser degree, in national economic interests. Élites' partisanship and their roles inside or outside the U.S. national decision-making process also selectively condition the effect of political events on their belief in U.S. foreign policy values.

U.S. Élites and Values Change

Studies have shown that values play a significant role in accounting for the mass public’s belief-system (Feldman 1988, Kinder 1983, Conover & Feldman 1984) and opinions toward policies and vote choices (e.g., Kinder & Sanders 1996, Zaller 1991, Kluegel & Smith 1986, Miller & Shanks 1996). However, little is known about what accounts for élites’ acceptance of values and under what conditions they modify or maintain their values. This study examines the question of whether U.S. élites modify their foreign policy values or not, and if they do what accounts for value-changes in response to the specific external conditions. The experience of the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and Second Gulf War against Iraq provide us with opportunities to explore the influence of political events on élites’ attitudes towards the United States (U.S.) foreign policy and the way that élites’ individual level characteristics condition the effect of events on their values. As a way to explore the question, this study adopts a perspective which emphasizes the interaction between political context and élites’ individual level characteristics in accounting for their belief in foreign policy values. Thus, while élites maintain their belief in some foreign policy values during these tumultuous periods, they also selectively modify their attachment to values in reaction to specific political events. Also, the élites’ political predisposition and role in decision-making modify the way they interpret the external events and shape their belief in these values. The following sections discuss existing studies on élites’ values, belief-systems, hypotheses and findings.

U.S. Élites’ Belief-Systems and Values

Studies on public opinion on foreign policy suggest that élites’ belief-systems are relatively well organized and stable compared to that of public opinions because they have cognitive capacity, motivation, skills and active involvement in politics. Some scholars (Lippmann 1955, Almond 1950 & 1960) suggest that, unlike the mass public whose opinion is moody, unpredictable and easily influenced by emotional appeals, élites tend to make stable, coherent and strategic decisions with better knowledge, interests and comprehension of complex political situations and choices.

Similarly, Converse (1964) clearly laid out the claim regarding the different structure and organization of belief-systems between élites and the public: only a limited segment of society—i.e., élites or political activists—possesses a high level of interest and knowledge on politics and is capable of maintaining stable, coherent and ideologically-based attitudes. In a comparative study on élites, Putnam (1976) agrees with the observations that élites’ belief-systems are well organized, structured and stable over time because of their cognitive capacity, knowledge on specific policy issues and high education levels.

While these studies argue that U.S. élites’ belief-systems and opinion are different from the public because élites have more knowledge, time, interest, capacity to process information and engagement in politics, other studies focused on élites’ belief-system in foreign policy area (Holsti & Rosenau 1990, Wittkopf & Maggiotto 1983, Wittkopf 1987, Chittick, Billingsley & Travis 1990) examine the existence of the components and organization of belief-system by paying attention to a few numbers of postures or values. They agree on the idea that a small number of postures (or values) can be identified and these are the key elements that define élites’ opinion on foreign policy, but they differ on the actual number(or dimensions) of values. For instance, Wittkopf and Maggitto (1983) proposes two postures of belief-system—cooperative internationalism and militant internationalism—as an alternative to the one-dimensional understanding of foreign policy values – internationalism vs. isolationalism. On the other hand, Chittick and others (1990) propose three factors that structure élites and the public belief-system: international milieu goals, national security and national economic interest. Although the debate on the number of postures of belief-system has not resolved, these studies provide a ground for further analysis of the sources of these values, the effects of these values on specific policy attitudes and the change of these values.

In addition to identifying the structure of U.S. élites’ belief-system, Holsti and Rosenau (1990) explore the sources of values and found that political predispositions (partisanship and ideology) and professional occupation of élites are strongly correlated with these values. Democrats, Liberals, educators, clergy and media leaders are more likely to be “accommodationists”, while Republicans, Conservatives, military officers and business executives are more likely to be “hard-liners” (ibid, p.116-117). It suggests that partisan and ideological divisions are also related to foreign policy attitudes. Similarly, Wittkopf and Maggiotto (1983) show that ideology and partisanship are strongly correlated to different policy attitudes. In studying two major values in America—Capitalism and democracy—McClosky and Zaller (1984) found similar results: Liberal élites are more likely than Conservatives to believe in egalitarianism and are far more critical than Conservatives on values representing capitalism. Although some scholars (like Dye & Zeigler 1981) argue the homogeneity of élites in their share of values, empirical studies show that there exist important partisan or ideological divisions on values among élites.

Related to the question of the source of foreign policy values and principles is how élites change their values. Relatively few studies pay attention to this question. Chittick and others (1990) examine the change of élites’ foreign policy opinions in comparison with the mass public by using the surveys conducted by Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR). They found that élites’ foreign policy beliefs in international milieu, national security and national economic interests did not change over the periods of 1974, 1978, 1982 and 1986. But the mass public reveals changes of their postures between 1974 and 1978 and again between 1982 and 1986. The changed political environment affects the public’s foreign policy beliefs, but élites remain stable. Their finding is consistent with that of Murray (2002). In studying the change of élites’ foreign policy attitudes with panel data, Murray (2002) shows that élites did not change their traditional foreign policy postures—militant internationalism and cooperative internationalism—while they shifted their perceptions regarding Russia and the potential threat from that country after the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union. In other words, although élites changed their specific policy attitudes toward Russia in reaction to changed political environment, their postures are not easily changed. Furthermore, the relationship between ideology and these foreign policy postures remained stable between 1989 and 1992. According to Murray, élites maintain their policy-beliefs and attitudes as they are able to organize and maintain a coherent belief-system regarding foreign policy issues along ideological lines. Ideology instead anchors élites’ postures.

The Interaction Model for U.S. Élites’ Value-Changes

These studies on the U.S. élites’ belief-systems structure, the source of foreign policy values and stability of postures provide important insights on élites’ value-changes. However, the proposition on the stability of élites’ belief in values and the effect of political disposition on values still needs to be tested. In doing so it is also necessary to expand theoretical discussions on élites’ value change since existing studies on values and opinion change can provide useful guidelines. Existing studies (Inglehart 1981, Rokeach & Ball-Rokeach 1989, Rokeach 1973, Sears & Valentino 1997, Zaller 1992) on opinion change provide theoretical perspectives on under what conditions individuals would change their belief in values. They show that at least two factors should be considered to examine the change of values: external environment and individual level characteristics. The changing environments initiate the change and the strength and relevance of the external events will make a difference on values. Inglehart (1981) proposes that, when the socialization process (facilitated by economic conditions) influences individuals to pursue higher order needs rather than lower order needs, they shift their values from materialistic (fighting rising prices and maintaining order) to post-materialistic (protecting freedom of speech and having more say in government). Similarly, Inglehart & Abramson (1994) suggest that post-materialistic values are prevalent among younger generations in advanced countries the more these countries experience significant economic development. Changed economic conditions make individuals and society focus on post-materialist values. In a similar vein, Sears and Valentino (1997) explored how political events influence the socialization process of pre-adults at the individual level. They suggest that political events (Presidential election campaigns) can generate changes in pre-adults’ long-standing and stable predispositions, but the effects of events on the attitudes of pre-adults is selective and limited to salient attitude objects. Also, the socialization of pre-adults occurs periodically rather than continuously, because such potentially socializing events tend to happen only periodically. They direct to the importance of the impact of external events (or information) and the relevance of the events on the attitude objects, i.e. values. Not all values are going to be influenced by the events but only the values that are relevant to the events will be the target of change.

Another important consideration on values change is the characteristics of individuals. The previous studies (Murray 2002, Wittkopf & Maggiotto 1983, McClosky & Zaller 1984) show that political predisposition will differentiate the way élites believe in values. More importantly, these predispositions filter the external events and in turn affect élites’ belief in values. They will condition the effect of events on values change. As Zaller (1992) laid out in his model of attitude change, it is necessary to take into account both the characteristics of the external conditions and individual level characteristics, as well as the interaction of these two components. The way that individuals change their attitudes depends on the intensity of the messages, individuals’ awareness levels and political predisposition. Consistent with psychological theory on information processing (e.g., Fiske & Taylor 1991, Chen & Shelly 1999), Zaller’s theory emphasizes that citizens process new information according to the characteristics of the evaluation objects and their predispositions. Furthermore, studies suggest that citizens’ partisanship influences their information processing of candidates Rahn (1993), opinion changes Bartels (2002), acceptance of values (e.g., Goren 2005) and attitude changes (e.g., Zaller 1992). Strong partisanship, like stereotyping, colors the information that individuals receive from external conditions (e.g., either from élites or direct experiences). For example, it is difficult to change the opinions and attitudes of a person who has strong partisan orientation unless the new information overwhelmingly shakes that person’s beliefs. More importantly, Goren (2005) and McCann (1997) show that partisanship is more stable than core values (e.g., egalitarianism and individualism). This provides a stronger ground for the role of partisanship as a modifying factor in accounting for value-changes.

In addition to the interaction between partisanship and events, this study considers another individual level difference: élites’ role in decision-making. As studies (Tetlock 1981, Tetlock 1983, Suedfeld & Rank 1976) on élites’ decision-making or reasoning show, élites’ role in the political system influences the way that they engage in thinking and reasoning. As the role of élites gives them a sense of greater responsibility for their decisions, they are more likely to be cautious and to engage in an integratively complex reasoning process in their decision-making or statements. For example, Tetlock (1983) found that individuals who are put in positions of responsibility are more likely than others to engage in strategic and thoughtful information processing. In analyzing the statements of revolutionary leaders in other nations, Suedfeld & Rank (1976) argue that revolutionary leaders make more measured and reasoned statements once they are in power and become responsible for maintaining their power. In a similar study, Tetlock (1981) presents that, once American Presidential candidates have won the election, they issue policy statements which reflect integratively complex reasoning as they become aware of the responsibility of governance. These studies give strong support to the idea that élites’ role will influence the way they engage in information-processing.

The core of Interaction Theory is its emphasis on the interactions between these individual characteristics and contextual conditions. Not only do political predispositions serve to filter individuals’ interpretations of events independently, but also they affect the interpretations of events in combination with political contexts and other individual characteristics. For example, Tetlock (1984) shows that ideologically Liberal and moderate senators demonstrated more integratively complex reasoning than Conservative Senators when Congress was under Democratic control, but this political complexity declined when it was under Republican control. Similarly, Tetlock, Hannum & Micheletti (1984) argue that, although liberal and moderate élites are more likely than Conservative élites to engage in complex reasoning, this tendency depends on political conditions. Especially, whether élites are in charge of decision-making or not has a significant influence on whether they engage in complex reasoning. Liberals are more likely to present policies in integratively-complex terms when they are responsible for decision-making, but they do not so actively employ this type of reasoning when they are not in a position to take responsibility for the decisions. In contrast, Conservatives show a relatively stable level of integratively-complex reasoning within and across the U.S. Congress.

In line with these studies, this study stresses the effect of the interaction between élites’ political predispositions and their role in the decision-making in accounting for their values in reaction to events. By taking into account both factors, the theory can further details who modify their values in reaction to political events in different contexts. In this study, partisanship is the main political predisposition because of the heightened partisan division among élites in recent years. As Sears and Valentino (1997) pointed out, the effect of events on values depends on the characteristics of events. The “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and Second Gulf War against Iraq share similarity in that both events reminded citizens of the precariousness of international politics and the importance of national security: terrorist attacks were always limited in their domestic political repercussions, but the above case-studies also differ in that the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” drew unified action from citizens but the 2003 Second Gulf War against Iraq and the prolonged war efforts created political divisions at home and abroad. Because of this political difference, both events will have different impacts on élites’ values. Also the types of values matters when élites reacted to such events and form their belief in values. Before cogent hypotheses can be presented based on the discussion of the Interaction Model, this study briefly describes the characteristics of the values examined.


Four different types of foreign policy values are examined in this work. Existing studies on public opinion vs. foreign policy (Hurwitz & Peffley 1987, Holsti 2004, Wittkopf 1986, Richman, Malone & Nolle 1997) have highlighted various types of values affecting national foreign policy: internationalism, cooperative internationalism, militant internationalism or anti-Communism. Most of these works identify these values by analyzing the CCFR’s quadrennial surveys, which are accepted to a degree as examples of values in this study, it also includes other values as well: militarism, domestic economic interest, humanitarianism and democracy-promotion. Militarism represents a Realist’s perspective reflecting the belief that maintaining superior military power to protect national security is an important U.S. foreign policy goal. Similarly, domestic economic interests captures the belief in economic trade and resources as dominant self-interests in the area of foreign policy. These two values represent the two most important elements of national interest: physical and economic security. Previous studies (Wittkopf 1986, Richman, Malone & Nolle 1997, Chittick, Billingsley & Travis 1995) treat humanitarianism and democracy-promotion as “cooperative internationalism”, “multilateralism-unilateralism” (Chittick & others 1995), or “global altruism” (Richman & others 1997).1

However, these works tended to overlook the differences between humanitarianism and democracy-promotion. Indeed, traditional Realists (Morgenthau 1952, Kennan 1984, Mearsheimer 2001) would consider them Idealist values, as they both share a similarity in values emphasizing normative ideals in contrast to self-interest-oriented goals. Both of these latter values reflect traditional Liberal internationalism, but also represent two different aspects of it. Humanitarianism appeals for unconditional altruism towards other human beings (Feldman & Steenbergen 2001), representing individuals’ concern and care only because the victims are humans, without attaching any specific conditions in helping the individuals or countries at risk (Feldman & Steenbergen 2001, Gibney 1999). Furthermore, humanitarianism is different from democracy-promotion because the former value emphasizes humanity and neutrality in helping the needy, which is close to the principles of the International Committee of Red Cross (Chandler 2001, Barnett 2005).

Democracy-promotion is another central value that represents Liberal internationalism. As studies (e.g., Brands 1998, Monten 2005) have shown, democracy-promotion builds on the historico-ideological belief in U.S. foreign policy views of the 1780s-1900s of American “exceptionalism” and on its self-perceived difference from other countries and cultures. Thus, it is a “God-given" mission not only to set a global example for the superiority of democracy in the U.S., but also to spread this ideal to the world under U.S. guidance since the Two World Wars. This missionary belief is consistent with the belief that the U.S. should “move beyond example and undertake active measures to vindicate the right” (Brands 1998, p.VIII; Monten 2005), and that it is the mission of the U.S. to spread its universal political values and institutions by actively taking measures beyond mere passive example-setting.2

While this value had been prominent in the history of U.S. foreign policy (e.g., Encarnación 2005, Hunt 1987, Lieven 2004, McCartney 2004), developments in international politics after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 provided the political opportunity for it to gain prominence among élites and pundits again. Scholars and pundits from Liberals (e.g., Diamond 1992, Allison & Beschel 1992, Talbott 1996) to neoConservatives (e.g., Kristol & Kagan 1996), who observed this collapse and a series of newly independent countries struggling to establish democracy in Eastern Europe, argued that promoting democracy should be the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. Although they differed on the specific ways to achieve this goal, they agreed on the importance of the value. In addition, the George W. Bush Jr. administration made the value a core principle in its foreign policy doctrine. Thus, it is proper to examine this value as an independent variable from other values, especially from humanitarianism.

Drawing from the discussion on the theories of mass public opinion and values change among élites, this study tests three hypotheses. First when élites react to external events in adjusting their values, their political predispositions will moderate their attachment to those values. Specifically, partisanship moderates the impact of major events on their belief in Idealist values, rather than Realist ones, as dramatic events–“9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and invasion of Iraq–produce disagreements on the pursuit of Idealist values or traditional Realist values. Both Democrats and Republicans would feel the importance of Realist values, but there will be more room to disagree on the values that are not directly related with national security. Thus, Democrats will be more likely to believe in Idealist values in world affairs than Republicans as response to the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks”. But the 2003 Second Gulf War invasion of Iraq against the inhuman dictatorship of Saddam Hussein did also paradoxically force a reexamination of their belief in democracy-promotion and to undermine their commitment since the administration made the value salient to the justification of the war. For Realist values, the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and the invasion of Iraq will not have a significant influence on them as élites regardless of partisanship, as they tend to accept the paramount importance of national security (military strength and economic safety). But the controversial invasion of Iraq and the ensuing long-term occupation and peacekeeping did lead many Democrats to reconsider their belief in any “humanitarian”-oriented militarism and to withdraw their support for this key value.

Second, the élites’ role in decision-making will influence the way that they filter the impact of events in defining and adjusting their Idealist values. Specifically, those élites who participate in decision-making institutions—the U.S. administration, House and Senate—will react more sensitively to external events than those élites who are outside of the decision-making circle in showing their support for the idealistic values. As they feel pressure to be responsible in their decision-making and they know more about details on the events, decision-making élites will increase their commitment to the Idealist values (humanitarianism and democracy-promotion) in response to the events, but they will not be different in their belief in Realist values.

Third, the élites’ partisanship and participation in decision-making will work together to define the influence of the political events on their attachment to Idealist values. In statistical terms, there will be a three-way interaction effect—partisanship, élites’ role and events—on these values. The interaction between partisanship and events will be conditioned by élites’ role in decision making. Partisan differences in their belief in Idealist values in reaction to the events will vary by their role in the institution. The difference between Democrats and Republicans in their belief in Idealist values will likely be smaller among decision-makers than among non-decision-makers in both events.

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