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Power Over Rationality: The Bush Administration and the Gulf Crisis.

The argument advanced in this slim, unfocused and sometimes redundant text suggests that very powerful states can occasionally afford not to be rational. Hybel contends that the emphasis of realists on the international structure is somewhat misplaced because decision-makers approach the world with different beliefs, values and intellectual capabilities. Consequently, their perceptions of reality, their perceptions of the structures and constraints, and what sorts of solutions they devise will differ.

Hybel then seeks to construct a topology of decision-making where the classic rational actor stands at the farthest extreme of the continuum. Closest to rationality is attribution theory where the decision-maker is seen as a naive scientist who commits errors because he does not know better. Schema theory rests even farther along the spectrum and suggests that decision-makers seek to understand the world without using inordinate amounts of time and energy. At the opposite end of the spectrum, farthest from rationality, Hybel places cognitive consistency theory where decision-makers, while trying to understand and solve problems, are also attempting to ensure that their beliefs and values remain mutually consistent. These are the least rational of decision-makers because in order to achieve the latter goal, the mind is required to manipulate information.

Given this topology, Hybel attempts to define why the United States did not engage in a policy of deterrence toward Saddam Hussein. He argues that even though lower level bureaucrats had correctly analyzed the situation, the administration rejected their assessment because it felt that Hussein was a rational actor and would know that an invasion of Kuwait would trigger a costly war Iraq could ill afford following its engagement with Iran. Hybel's analysis is noteworthy for he argues that the Bush administration did little to understand the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait from the Iraqi point of view. Rationality is an individual matter to the extent that utilities and the ranking of options will differ. However, with no Middle East experts guiding the decision-making process, the administration transposed its view of reality onto Hussein and seriously miscalculated his next move.

Once President Hussein had made the move into Kuwait the decision-making process within the administration continued to be less than rational. Indeed, the decision-making process was not dominated by the classical steps of rational decision-making but by the use of two analogies and their lessons: 1) Hussein was the equivalent of Hitler and appeasing tyrants was an ineffective means of control, and 2) the gradualism and military quagmire of Vietnam and Beirut had to be avoided by providing narrow, specified objectives backed up by the will and firepower to succeed. The use of these analogies undermined the Bush administration's ability to develop alternative definitions of the problem and, consequently, to give serious consideration to different policy options. Since the analogies were also used to maintain cognitive consistency, the decision-making process of the Bush administration was not rational but, according to Hybel, was located at the farthest end of the continuum at cognitive consistency theory. At the same time, Hybel argues, the U.S. could afford to miscalculate because the system lacked a counterbalance, the U.S.S.R., to impose rationality. By extension, rationality becomes a function of one's sense of vulnerability as defined, in part, by the decision-maker's perception of the international structure.

Hybel states that his study acknowledges the presence of variables at different levels of analysis. However, he does not make any serious attempt to integrate factors that do not come from the decision-makers' minds about the situation in the international scene into his analysis. While foreign policy is action directed outward, important, if not primary, causes and effects can often be found within the domestic context. His analysis does not, for example, consider the influence of public opinion, the domestic economic situation or re-election concerns. Further, Hybel makes no attempt to explain to the reader why George Bush was prone to develop policy in this way. While he notes that different people will approach the situation with differing perceptions, beliefs and values, he does not delineate what idiosyncratic characteristics of Bush led him to dictate the type of group dynamics present or his reliance on analogy. Hybel assumes that foreign policy decision-makers change, i.e., their experiences alter or can alter how they make decisions. However, his analysis does not consider the lessons Bush may have learned during his tenure as Vice-President when "splendid little wars" such as Grenada or the Falkland Islands did so much to boost the standing of Reagan and Thatcher. Finally, Hybel's analysis relies on the text of Bob Woodward's book The Commanders for, admittedly, a great deal of the empirical evidence used to buttress his arguments. While Woodward's book is highly readable, one could argue that reliance on a secondary source, where there are no citations or references to ensure validity and where it is openly admitted that Bush was not interviewed, is of questionable value, especially when the analysis revolves around diving into other people's minds.

Hybel's greatest contribution is in the development of the decision-making topology. His analysis is a descriptive explanation of what he interpreted from Woodward's book. Finally, his use of the Gulf War as an example of application is not well chosen if one considers the numerous domestic factors that are virtually ignored but may have been much more enlightening.
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Author:Durham, Gesele
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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