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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The results show how élites respond to events and adjust their belief in foreign policy values. One general pattern is that there is a different pattern of change. The effect of events is fairly limited in accounting for their belief in Realist values. On the other hand, the effect of events in accounting for U.S. élites’ belief in Idealist values depends on élites’ political predisposition and the decision-making role with in the institutions. The “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and Second Gulf War confirmed the importance of national security based on military power and economic security. Under this emergency and crisis situation, élites are more likely to adopt Realist values in their view of foreign policy. As for Idealist values, élites’ partisanship and role in decision-making differentiate their belief in these values. Being Democrats and Republicans makes a difference in their acceptance of humanitarianism in different political contexts. Similarly, decision-making status differentiates élites’ beliefs in humanitarianism. Furthermore, the effect of partisanship on the value is moderated by the decision-making role.

Among the non-decision-makers, partisanship gap is growing as they experience the events. But among decision-makers, the partisan gap is reduced over the years. Thus, U.S. élites’ belief in humanitarianism becomes a central issue that draws partisan attention. In addition, the finding shows that decision-makers do have different perspective, due to their responsibilities. For example, Republican decision-makers quickly catch up with their Democrat counterparts in their belief in humanitarianism after the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and Second Gulf War. Given that Republicans tend to be hawkish and Realist in foreign policy, this is an unusual move. But Republicans in the decision-making arena, control the direction of the national foreign policy and cross-resolution have to be more cautious in coming up with alternatives and solutions. When out-of-power, the Republican élites, including President Bush Jr., were initially critical of U.S. involvement in international affairs during the Bill Clinton administration and emphasized Realist and even neo-Isolationist approach. But once they were in power with responsible positions, Republican élites, as studies have shown (Tetlock and others 1984) modified their belief in humanitarianism. The clear difference between Republican non-decision-makers and decision-makers strongly support this. Partisanship and the decision-making role in government individually moderate the effect of crises on élites’ belief in democracy-promotion. The effect of three way interaction is limited for democracy-promotion and militarism. Regardless of decision-making role, Democrats are more likely to be disillusioned with “democracy-promotion” and “militarism” after the experience of the Second Gulf War.

An implication of these findings is that U.S. élites selectively modified their beliefs in values in reaction to foreign crises selectively. Studies on values change tend to focus on stability of élites’ attitudes. But what we are observing here is that that this argument is only half true. Although élites tend to remain stable in their belief in values under different political context, external shocks do shake up élites’ belief in some values: Idealist values. As scholars (e.g., Inglehart 1981; Rokeach and Ball-Rokeach 1989) point-out individuals adjust their values in response to external crises. Under these conditions self-preserving security remains the major concern, there will not be substantial division over Realist values. But there is a plenty of room for differences to emerge towards Idealist values. These values are harder to agree on and invite different interpretations. Studies on public opinion (e.g., Carmines & Stimson 1980, Alvarez & Brehm 2002, Wittkopf & Maggiotto 1983) already pointed-out that types of issues (hard or easy) make certain elements of reasoning (e.g., sophistication level and partisanship) play more important roles in forming opinions. Thus, the political context and the characteristics of values produce different reactions.

A related, but more important implication is that the impact of the events on élites’ belief in values are moderated by élites’ characteristics. Contrary to Élite Theory (e.g., Dye 2002, Dye & Zeigler 1981) that posits that homogeneous élites would share similar values and react to external conditions in a similar way, élites are not homogenous in their belief in Idealist values. Consistent with existing studies that emphasize the precedence and central role of partisanship (Goren 2005, Goren, Federico & Kittilson 2009, McCann 1997) and role in institutions (Tetlock 1984), the élites’ political predisposition and role in institution conditions the way they interpret events and in turn form their belief in values. Unlike the theory that emphasize the homogeneity of élites, this study provides a more nuanced findings. Although U.S. élites share similarity in their socio-economic status, knowledge, information and interest in politics, their political orientation and decision-making role distinguishes their belief in values. Especially, the partisan affiliation and decision-making role of élites’ clearly filters their interpretation of events and belief in values. But the effect of partisanship on élites’ beliefs in values emerged only after the U.S. experienced unprecedented crises. Even though Democrat and Republican élites had clashed over foreign policy goals during the Clinton administration, they did not differ substantially over the values. But the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq shook élites and sparked more partisan reactions towards them. While Democrats and Republicans differ mostly on Idealist values, the partisan discord is strengthened on militarism after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It shows that the severe fall-out on Democrat élites’ belief in militarism comes with the Second Gulf War, which remains a core element of national security. The post-war failure to stabilize Iraq and achieve the originally-proposed goals of régime-change and democratization strengthened the partisan divisions on the role of militarism, which was not initially considered an object of partisan interpretation.

Similarly, decision-making role modifies the effect of events in accounting for élites’ belief in Idealist values. U.S. élites who were in the decision-making circle showed a substantially different stance towards these values in reaction to crises events. Élites who took part in the foreign policy decision-making process were more likely to accept Idealists after they experienced the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As élites who were in the decision-making circle might have felt pressure to be more responsible for the events, they took a more comprehensive stance in dealing with the new crises by emphasizing Idealism as well as military power. Being in a responsible position in government decision-making place élites in a different mind-set and forces them to interpret the events differently from élites who do not have to take such responsibilities. In addition, their position would foster them to engage in instrumental thinking. To deal with terrorist attacks, élites might need to consider all possible alternatives, rather than a limited number of choices. With this need, they have to go outside of their usual patterns of consideration and belief-systems. Although élites are relatively small compared to the mass public, there are still divisions and differences among élites in shaping their foreign policy goals. It is particularly interesting to see such divisions become prominent when the nation faces serious crises. Usually, it is expected that national crises might produce a united reaction from élites. The difference between decision-makers and non-decision-makers on the Idealist values was strengthened after they experienced the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks”, which supposedly united all Americans. Even if the terrorists’ attacks united Americans, they also provoked divisions among élites over the foreign policy goals according to their role in decision-making.

Although the source to anchor U.S. élites’ values is slightly different from Murray’s (2002) study, the strong effect of partisanship in accounting for élites’ value-changes suggest that partisans division is not limited in domestic politics. Especially the Second Gulf War against Iraq worsened élites’ partisan division on democracy-promotion and militarism, which are important elements of neo-Conservatives’ foreign policy belief. Although it needs more study on the lasting effect of the Second Gulf War against Iraq on values among élites, the findings implies that the Second Gulf War alone stoked partisan divisions among U.S. élites regarding their belief in those values. The long peacekeeping against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan with the justification of the war with the ideal of democracy-promotion undermined Democrats’s belief in democracy-promotion. This experience pushed even Independents to behave like Democrats. The worsening partisan division on these values cast a pessimistic future on Liberal internationalism (or active internationalism in general) in U.S. foreign policy. But there is a sign of agreement between partisan elite decision-makers on humanitarianism. At least this conversion suggests that the experience of the “9/11 Terrorist Attacks” and Second Gulf War against Iraq made élite decision-makers to reconsider the importance of humanitarianism in U.S. foreign policy. The existence of a three-way interaction effect on humanitarianism and national economic interest, but the lack of this effect on democracy-promotion and militarism suggest that the Second Gulf War against Iraq created the strongest possible partisan division on the values that representing neoConservatism.

The U.S. public opinion surveys used in this research work were conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in 1998, 2002 and 2004 through a telephone survey. There are 9 categories from which U.S. élites are drawn: U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Administration, business, media, labor leaders, educators, religious leaders, special interest-groups and private foreign policy organizations. These members were selected in a similar way for each survey, by using the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations’ Leadership Topline 2002 annual survey. The respondents for each group were selected in the following way:

  • all U.S. Representatives’ names were selected from the Congressional Yellow Book (published by Leadership Directories, 2002). If the House or Senate member was not available, the interview was conducted with their Legislative Assistants responsible for foreign affairs.

  • The names of U.S. Assistant Secretaries and other senior level staff in the Administration who were interviewed were selected from various agencies and offices dealing with foreign affairs (see the Federal Yellow Book, published by Leadership Directories, 2002).

  • In the business sector, Vice-Presidents in charge of international affairs were interviewed and top industrial corporations in the Fortune 1000 list were included. Business respondents’ names were provided by idEXEC, a leading supplier of sampling of business executives.

  • In the media, interviews were conducted with television and radio news directors, network news-casters, newspaper editors and columnists, selected from: News Media Yellow Book (published by Leadership Directories, 2002).

  • For Labor Leaders, interviews targeted some Presidents of the largest Labor Unions, using as directory the Capital Source (published by the National Journal Group, 2002, and Dun and Bradstreet, 2002).

  • Educators included Presidents and faculty who teach in the area of foreign affairs from a list of universities provided by Market Data Retrieval (2002), a firm specializing in sampling for educational institutions.

  • Religious leaders included religious leaders representing all faiths, proportionate to the number of Americans worshipping each faith, based on the directory, Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).

  • Special interest-groups interviews were conducted with Presidents from large interest-groups involved in foreign policy, using as directory, Capital Source (published by the National Journal Group, 2002).

  • For private foreign policy organizations, interviews were conducted with Presidents from major private foreign policy organizations using as directory, Capital Source, The Who’s Who, What, Where in Washington: Think-Tanks (published by National Journal Group, 2002).

Dependent Variables and Questions Posed

Question posed: “Below is a list of possible foreign policy goals that the United States might have. For each one please select whether you think that it should be a very important foreign policy goal of the United States, a somewhat important foreign policy goal, or not an important goal at all?”


“Helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations?” (“very important”=1, somewhat important”=.5, “not important at all”=0)


“Combating world hunger or Helping to improve the standard of living of less-Developed nations?” (“very important”=1, somewhat important”=.5, “not important at all”=0)


“Maintaining superior military power world-wide?” (“very important”=1, somewhat important”=.5, “not important at all”=0)

National Economic Interest

“Do you think it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs?” (yes=1, no=0)?

Independent Variables:


“How would you describe your party affiliation?” (Republican=1, Independent=2, Democrat=3)

Political Ideology:

“How would you describe your political views range: from extremely Conservative=1 to extremely Liberal=6?”

Decision-making role:

Dichotomous variable. U.S. Members of House of Representatives or Senate or Administration =1, otherwise (business, media, labor leaders, education, religious organizations, interest-groups and private foreign policy organizations) =0.

Gender: Gender of Respondent (Male=1, Female=0)
Age: Age of respondent.
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Dukhong Kim, Ph.D., holds a Doctorate in Political Science from Northwestern University and a M.A. in Political Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), with research interests on political behavior, public opinion, race and ethnic politics. His essay, “Beliefs in Foreign Policy Goals and American Citizens’ Support for Foreign Aid” will be published in the European Journal of Economics and Political Studies (2014), and his, “Democracy Promotion and Americans' Support for Troop Use” will be published in the TRAME-Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (2014).

1 They reach these conclusions using data from surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. As their main goal was to show that citizens’ foreign policy beliefs are organized along a limited number of dimensions or principles, they provide an important base for this study in regards to the number of values considered.

2 According to them, there is another element of Liberal “exceptionalism”: “exemplarism”. This belief shares the same exceptionalism, but it stresses the importance of securing and maintaining democracy as a value and an institution in the U.S. first and setting the example to the outside world without going out to the world. Similar studies (Burns 1957, McDougall 1997, Schlesinger Jr. 1986) on the history of American identity, culture and foreign policy propose that America is exceptional in its place in the world, due to its adherence to Idealism (Liberal democracy) and its belief in its purpose of achieving a God-given mission—creating "the City upon a hill"—as a chosen people. This traditional value was the norm in the past (1780s-1900s), but is today advocated only by proponents of Liberal “exceptionalism”, while since 1917 President Woodrow Wilson’s Idealism advocated the more activist internationalization of the U.S. democratic experiment alongside Collective Security and peace through the League of nations and later the United Nations.

3 The Appendix provides detailed information about the categories.

4 The mean statistics are calculated by normalizing the scale of the dependent variables on a 0 to 1 scale.

5 Several studies ( Kam & Robert J. 2007; Aiken & West 1991) recommend to use graphs to probe the interaction model estimations to present the results more informative way. Each figure is drawn directly based on the estimation results. The predicted values of the dependent variables are obtained by changing the range of the interested independent variable (e.g., partisanship), while all the other remaining independent variables are held at their constant. The package “effects” (Fox & Hong 2009) is used to get the predicted values in R.

6 Although the three-way interaction model performs poorly for “democracy-promotion” this study presents this model to make comparison with other values consistent. The two-way interaction model produces a slightly different results. Especially, the interaction between year 2004 and Democrats is negative and statistically significant while other findings are the same. This suggests that Democrats are far less likely to be supportive of democracy-promotion than Republicans in 2004, regardless of their decision-making role. The two-way interaction model estimation is available from author upon request.

7 Different ways of graphical presentation of the three-way interaction effects depend on our interest in a specific variable. For example, if we want to know how the two-way interaction between “partisanship and year” varies by “élites’ affiliation with decision-making organization”, we can make the affiliation as a varying independent variable. The graph here is based on this approach. If we want to know how the two-way interaction between “year and élite’s affiliation” varies by “partisanship”, we can set the “partisanship” as a varying independent variable. Finally, if we want to know how the two-way interaction between “élites’ affiliation and partisanship” varies by “year”, we can set the “year” variable as an independent variable in making the graphs. In all, the graphs are based on the 3 (partisanship categories) *3 (years) *2 (affiliation categories) =18 points of predicted values from the estimation.

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