Dissertation

Negotiating with American Identity: Analyzing the Tradeoff Between Interests and Values in United States Foreign Policy

From its founding, United States politicians and policymakers have espoused reverence for national values in the creation of US foreign policy. Yet, there are countless examples of traditional US values being disregarded in favor of interests. Why does this happen? When will this happen? In this dissertation I attempt to answer these questions with a social theory of US foreign policy. US values are a greater determinant of US policy when these values are more connected to US national identity. I test this theory at the micro-level through a survey experiment using US foreign policy vignettes. I demonstrate that this theory holds at the macro-level by analyzing the determinants of US military assistance. 

Chapter 1 - A Social-Psychological Theory of the Tradeoff Between US Interests and US Values: Drawing on constructivist, sociological, and international relations research, I assert US national identity consists of "core" and "peripheral" values. Interests, on the other hand, are constituted through material state needs. Interests easily overwhelm peripheral US values because policymakers face fewer cognitive consequences by betraying them. In contrast, core values are more resilient to the challenge of interests, since disregarding them betrays central parts of US identity. Consequently, it is expected that when interests and values clash, the degree to which the value is betrayed depends on the value's proximity to the core of US national identity.  

Chapter 2 - Charting American Identity: American Values in History, Culture, and Rhetoric: What is the national identity of the United States? What values are associated with this identity? In many studies of American foreign policy, US policy is thought to be a function of both objective state interests as well as values emanating from US national identity. However, US national identity and its values are often assumed, analyzed through unclear methods, or noted without any attempt to gauge their salience. This chapter determines and differentiates the values associated with US national identity by analyzing the National Archives and Records Administration's "100 Milestone Documents," US federal holidays and symbols, and presidential State of the Union addresses. I find that democracy is the most privileged value in all realms analyzed. Humanitarianism and enterprise are secondary while other values are more tangential. If values are determinants of US foreign policy, the US should exhibit a greater commitment to democracy than other values when crafting US foreign policy.     

Chapter 3 - The Cognitive Consequences of Violating Values: Constructivists generally agree that identities impress themselves upon the state and shape state behavior. Less explored are the specific routes by which national identity exerts its effect. This chapter proposes that an analysis of identity’s impact on policy should focus on the agents of state policy: policymakers. I also explore cognitive dissonance as a potential psychological mechanism that enforces national identity. If national identity impacts state behavior it should be present in the cognitions of the individuals responsible for carrying out state policy. To examine individual responses to challenges to state identity, I present respondents with a foreign policy vignette wherein the US must choose between a US interest and a US national value. Respondents are hypothesized to more greatly favor US values when these values are central to US identity. I investigate whether or not cognitive dissonance is causing this outcome by assigning respondents a counter-attitudinal essay. The cognitive dissonance of respondents is measured with a “post-purchase” dissonance scale. Respondents are hypothesized to experience greater magnitude cognitive dissonance when writing an essay that endorses violating values that have greater centrality to US national identity. 

Chapter 4 - The Limits of US National Identity: The national identity of the United States posits certain national values that, according to policymakers, shape US foreign aid policy. However, these national values clash with national interests when policymakers are faced with the decision of whether or not to grant US military aid to countries that serve US interests but do not embody US national values. To what extent are US national values resilient to clashes with US security and economic interests? This chapter hypothesizes that national values are resilient to clashes with interests to the extent to which these values are a salient feature of US national identity. More prominent values (democracy) are almost impervious to countervailing interests while more tangential values (enterprise and human rights) exhibit wildly different effects on US military aid allocation depending on the security and economic importance of the recipient state. The results demonstrate both that national identity plays a role in foreign policy and also that statist interests can undermine this role when the constituent values of national identity are weak.   

Publications

"Exceptional or Expendable?: How Economic and Strategic Interests Undermine Democracy, Humanitarianism, and Human Rights in US Economic Aid Allocation,” in Democracy and Security, 14:4, 358-388.

Abstract: The US routinely expresses its commitment to democracy, humanitarian assistance, and human rights. Yet, these values will periodically clash with US economic and strategic interests. Using a dataset of US aid allocations from 1976 – 2005, this study determines that America’s commitment to its declared values is disregarded or diminished when economic and strategic interests demand it. This is especially true for human rights and humanitarian assistance. America’s commitment to democracy seems more resistant to changes in the economic and strategic context.

"Competing Concerns: Balancing Human Rights and National Security in US Economic Aid Allocation" in Human Rights Review, 17:4, 439 - 462.

Abstract: This paper theorizes that the effect of human rights violations on US economic aid is conditioned by the salience of US national security concerns. National security concerns will be more salient in situations where recipients contribute to maintaining US security and in temporal eras when the US is perceived as being under increased external threat. As the relational and temporal salience of national security increases, any negative effect of human rights violations on US economic aid should decrease. I test this hypothesis by examining US economic aid allocations to states from 1977 – 2005. The results show that the salience of national security concerns present in the US-recipient relationship does condition the relationship between human rights violations and US economic aid. There are also significant differences between different temporal eras of US foreign aid allocation. Future work should address how conflicts between interests and values in US foreign policy are negotiated.   

Working Papers

"Whither American Values? President Trump and the Future of United States Foreign Policy." 

Abstract: President Trump has been accused of violating United States values, particularly those associated with the liberal-democratic national identity of the US. Furthermore, critics of the President argue that his disregard for US values has foreign policy implications. I investigate claims that President Trump is hostile to US values by comparing his formal presidential rhetoric to that of past presidents. I find that critics of the President are largely correct: President Trump rhetorically appeals less to US values than past presidents. I test whether or not this is consequential for US foreign policy by comparing President Trump and President Obama's reactions to contested elections and human rights violations in allied and non-allied countries. I find that while some policy change is evident, it is rather surface-level and is mitigated by how deeply US values are integrated into US policymaking. 

 

"The Limits of National Identity: Interests and Values in US Military Aid." 

Abstract: The national identity of the United States posits certain national values that, according to policymakers, shape US foreign aid policy. However, these national values clash with national interests when policymakers are faced with the decision of whether or not to grant US military aid to countries that serve US interests but do not embody US national values. To what extent are US national values resilient to clashes with US security and economic interests? This paper hypothesizes that national values are resilient to clashes with interests to the extent to which these values are a salient feature of US national identity. More prominent values (democracy) are almost impervious to countervailing interests while more tangential values (enterprise and human rights) exhibit different effects on US military aid allocation depending on the security and economic importance of the recipient state. The results demonstrate both that national identity plays a role in US foreign policy and also that material interests can undermine this role when the constituent values of national identity are weak.   

 

"Determinants of US Bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreements." 

Abstract: In the last two decades the US has signed an increasing number of what are called bilateral “Defense Cooperation Agreements” (DCAs). DCAs are a relatively new form of cooperation in which two states enter into a formal agreement that outlines procedures for long-term and regular defense cooperation. DCAs differ from alliances in the symmetry and specificity of their obligations. What factors motivate the US to be party to DCAs with other states? I argue that because of the nature of DCAs as a tool that improve defense capabilities while also exposing states to vulnerabilities, the US will sign DCAs with states that share its interests, have significant preexisting capabilities, and that it can trust. I test influence of these determinants using a dataset of US-bilateral DCAs from 1970 to 2010. The results show that the US is more likely to be party to a DCA with states that are formal allies, have higher military expenditures, have a higher GDP per capita, and have a democratic regime type. 

 

"Islamophobia and United States Foreign Policy Preferences" (with Daniel Simmons).  

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and especially since the events of September 11th 2001, the specter of Islam has been more salient in the American mind than ever before. The pervasive discourse surrounding Islam is likely to influence the beliefs and behavior of Americans. In fact, Muslims are consistently shown to be one of the least trusted groups in the United States. Yet, because of the perceived “foreignness” of Islam, and because perceived threats to the United States are often characterized as emanating from within and without, the consequences of this discourse may affect how Americans wish to act in the international arena. Given the extent to which Islam is perceived to be in antagonism with the US, do Americans favor different foreign policy choices when interacting with Muslim-majority nations or Muslim communities? I test for this possibility using two experiments that test if respondents are more "hawkish" in the face of a possible threat from a Muslim country and if respondents are less "hawkish" in favor of helping a persecuted Muslim minority. 

 

"The U.S. Congress and the Israeli Lobby: An Analysis of the Determinants of Congressional Support for Iranian Sanctions" (with Carlos Algara).

Abstract: Since the late 1960’s the US has maintained a relationship with Israel that is largely unprecedented in the history of US foreign policy. The United States Senate plays a role in maintaining this relationship and plays an essential constitutional role in foreign policymaking generally. Previous work on the determinants of congressional support of foreign policy initiatives focuses on the electoral connection, emphasizing a role for constituent-based variables when determining a senator’s foreign policy votes. However this limited scholarship fails to account for a legislator’s perception of the national interest and how this influences their foreign policy positions. Additionally, Mearsheimer and Walt (2007) note that the “Israel Lobby” sways US foreign policy but the extent of this influence on congress is unclear. Using the case of U.S. sanctions against Iran, this paper explores the role of constituent-level and elite level variables in determining an individual congressperson’s acquiescence to the “pro-Israel” position. These findings have implications for causes of the continued strength of the US-Israel relationship as well as implications for the determinants of congressional foreign policy positions more broadly.