The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview
Save to active project


THE GULF WAR OF THE EARLY 1990S PRESENTS THE NEXT EXAMPLE OF PUBLIC OPINion's relationship with foreign intervention policy. The case study consists of two parts. The first discusses the background of the war, focusing on the chain of events, the Bush administration's policy, and public opinion in 1990 and 1991. This sets the stage for the second part on how public opinion affected the decisions of policymakers themselves.

Focusing on President George Bush, Secretary of State James Baker, and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and their reactions to three benchmarks of the crisis, this case study provides insight into the way public opinion affected intervention policy. The benchmarks are the initial decision to deploy troops to the Persian Gulf in August 1990, the decision to reinforce the contingent with combat troops capable of offensive action around the November elections, and the decision to go to war in January of 1991. In what was the biggest commitment of U.S. military power since Vietnam, public opinion had a great influence on the way the administration presented the crisis in 1990–91, the diplomatic strategy the administration used leading up to the invasion, and the way the resulting coalition ultimately fought the war itself.

As the events in the Persian Gulf unfolded in late 1990 and early 1991, the American people's response was one not of overwhelming decisiveness but of unsure skepticism. Following the initial escalation the public was divided until immediately before the invasion. A lack of consensus over issues such as the necessity, likely outcome, and costs of a war with Iraq marked the period leading up to the actual fighting in January of 1991. The administration and the public both displayed remnants of the Vietnam syndrome.

The Bush administration's struggle to overcome this doubt in the American people presents a clear example of public opinion's effect upon foreign policy. The statements of the men who formed foreign policy during the three benchmark periods reflect public attitudes. Their decisions took into account the importance of maintaining the backing of the American people. This understanding had a direct bearing on the way in which crisis policy played out. Realizing the need for garnering public support, the Bush administration tailored its strategy, both in the presentation of the crisis and in the actual plan of the war, to respond to the desires of the public. It was


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus
Table of contents


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 276

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?