Prospecting for war: 9/11 and selling the Iraq War

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Daniel S. Masters (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
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Abstract: Current literature on the foreign policy process focuses almost entirely on elite packaging of foreign policy prospects with little or no attention on why the general population may accept or reject those options. Thus, a more complete understanding of the foreign policy process requires knowing the conditions under which when people will accept the foreign policy sales pitch. We propose using prospect theory–a model of decision-making that suggests people are inclined to escalate risks to avoid or recover losses—in order to understand the way in which context and emotions shape perceptions and support of foreign policy options. Prospect theory helps to explain the significance of elite behaviors like threat inflation, which are designed to link discrete foreign policy actions to conditions related to intensely emotional events in order to advance a preferred policy. To illustrate the utility of prospect theory to the foreign policy process we turn to the Iraq War policy process, and why the Bush Administration found a receptive audience to its public sale of the war. This study concludes that perceived losses in the security condition of the United States caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks provided a context, or reference point, used to frame the decision for war with Iraq. Moreover, the public sale of the war involved an effort by Senior Administration Officials to link Saddam Hussein to terrorism and 9/11 in order to cast a particular frame that was more likely to illicit risk-seeking behavior from the general population. This, combined with a collapse in elite opposition that could counter-frame the option for war, contributed to an alignment in public perceptions of terrorist threats and support for the proposition of an offensive war with Iraq as a prospect to escape the threat of terrorism.

Additional Information

Masters, D., & Alexander, R. M. (2008). Contemporary Security, 29 (3), 434-452. Retrieved from–.
Language: English
Date: 2008
Iraq War 2003-2011--Public Opinion, Decision making, Iraq War 2003-2011--Causes, War on Terrorism 2001-, September 11 Terrorist Attacks 2001--Influence
Iraq War, 2003-2011--Public Opinion
Decision making
Iraq War, 2003-2011--Causes
War on Terrorism, 2001-
September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001--Influence

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