The United States-Iraq War and Mexican Public Opinion

By Ortiz, Reynaldo Yunuen Ortega | International Journal, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The United States-Iraq War and Mexican Public Opinion


Ortiz, Reynaldo Yunuen Ortega, International Journal


This article analyzes a relationship that has not been carefully studied in the literature on US-Mexico relations: the link between Mexican public opinion and Mexico's foreign policy.

The article has three sections. In the first, I discuss the antithetic theoretical visions of institutional liberalism and realism in terms of the linkage between public opinion and foreign policy. After a brief review of this debate, I propose a hypothesis, based on Gabriel Almond's and Walter Lippmann's studies about the relationship between foreign policy and public opinion.1 The second section is a study of the evolution of perceptions in Mexican public opinion about the war on Iraq, based on six national opinion polls. The first of these was carried out on 20 January 2003, before the war began, and the other five took place between 20 March and 11 April 2003. In the final section, I draw some conclusions about the hypothesis and the role of Mexican public opinion in foreign policy.

INSTITUTIONAL LIBERALISM AND REALISM

The liberal institutionalist tradition can be traced back to Kant, who argues in Perpetual Peace that in a republican constitution

the assent of every citizen is necessary to decide the question, "Whether war shall be declared or not." But to decree war, would be to the citizen to decree against themselves all the calamities of war, such as fighting in person, furnishing from their own means towards the expense of the war; painfully to repair the devastations it occasions; and, to fill up the measure of evils, load upon themselves the weight of a national debt, that would embitter even peace itself, and which on account of constant new wars, can never be liquidated. They will certainly beware of plunging into an enterprise so hazardous. Whereas, in a constitution wherein the subjects are not citizens of the state, that is to say, a constitution not republican, a declaration of war is a most easy matter to resolve upon, as it does not require of the chief, proprietor and not member of the state, the least sacrifice of his pleasures, either of the table, the chase, the country.... He may therefore resolve on war as on a party of pleasure, for reasons the most frivolous, and with perfect indifference leave the justification of the same, which decency requires, to the diplomatic corps, who are ever ready to undertake it.2

From this argument, several contemporary authors have established a thesis about peace between democracies. According to Jack Levy, "the absence of war between democracies is the closest thing that we have in the international relations to a law."3 Along these same lines, Bruce Russett argues that "this is one of the most powerful generalizations, not trivial or tautological, that can be made about international relations."4 The idea that this theory is one of the most significant in international relations is not accepted by everyone. By contrast, for example, Christopher Layne and David E. Spiro have written critical articles against the democratic peace thesis.5

Without entering that controversy, a central part of the argument is that democracies have a tendency to be more peaceful with other democracies due to, inter alia, the force of public opinion in the formation of foreign policy. The assumption is that the democratic nature of a regime limits the bellicosity of its leaders. However, the proposed peaceful nature of democracies has very clear limits in situations where they face a nondemocratic regime and this is the reason Woodrow Wilson and other liberals emphasize the process of "democratization" in international relations as a pathway to international peace.

The link between public opinion and foreign policy is clear in liberal institutionalism. In the words of Elihu Root,

When foreign offices were ruled by autocracies or oligarchies the danger of war was in sinister purpose. When foreign affairs are ruled by democracies the danger of war will be in mistaken beliefs. …

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