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The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam

Richard Sobel

Publication Date - 01 March 2001

ISBN: 9780195105285

288 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Clear, accessible writing style that is jargon-free


How strongly does public opinion affect the making of U.S. foreign policy? In The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy Since Vietnam, Richard Sobel provides a compelling answer to this provocative question that has long stirred spirited debate among scholars, activists, and policymakers. The book explains how public attitudes have affected the making of U.S. foreign policy. It also explores the tension between theoretical views of what the role of public opinion should be in a democracy and the actual historical records. Focusing on four of the most prominent foreign interventions of the last generation--the Vietnam War, the Nicaraguan contra funding controversy, the Persian Gulf War, and the Bosnia crisis--the book demonstrates that public opinion constrained but did not set American foreign policy. The cases provide detailed information on the events, public attitudes, and policies for each of these four major U.S. conflicts. Sobel supports his argument with insights drawn from the words of decision-makers in public statements, records, and memoirs, as well as from interviews with three former secretaries of state and four former secretaries of defense. The book also explores how public sentiment about a specific crisis emerges over time and how it is often tied to the climate of interventionist and noninterventionist opinion. Clearly written, The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy Since Vietnam is an essential text for courses in American government, public opinion, political behavior, and American foreign policy. It will also have strong appeal to scholars, policy makers, and general readers who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the politics behind the most significant conflicts of recent times.

About the Author(s)

Richard Sobel is a Political Scientist at Harvard University and Senior Research Associate of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Table of Contents

    Foreword by Ole Holsti
    1. Public Opinion in American U.S. Foreign Policy
    2. The Theory of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
    3. Cycles in American Foreign Policy Opinion
    The Vietnam Case: An End to Interventionism?
    4. The Vietnam War: History, Policies, Opinion and Protest
    5. Vietnam I: Public Opinion and Protest on Lyndon Johnson's War
    6. Vietnam II: Public Opinion and Protest on Nixon's War
    The Nicaragua Case: The Contra Funding Controversy
    7. Nicaragua: History, Reagan Policies and Public Opinion
    8. Public Opinion's Influence on Contra Aid Policy
    The Gulf War Case: A Return to Invertentionism?
    9. The Gulf War: History, Bush Policies and Public Opinion
    10. Public Opinion's Influence on Gulf War Policy
    The Bosnia Case: From Nonintervention to Intervention
    11. Bosnia: History, Policies and Opinion
    12. Bosnia I: Public Opinion's Influence on Bush Nonintervention Policy
    13. Bosnia II: Public Opinion's Influence on Clinton Intervention Policy
    14. Extending the Theory of Public Opinion in American Foreign Policy: Public Opinion as Intervention Constraint

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