War and the Inner Circle: Democratic Elites and the Politics of Using Force
Forthcoming, Security Studies (September 2015)Forthcoming, Security Studies (September 2015)
47 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 May 2015
Date Written: 2015
Much of the literature on domestic politics and war assumes that open political debate, and especially the role of public opinion, is a key distinguishing feature of democracies in the international arena. Yet scholarship on political behavior demonstrates that the public is uninformed about foreign policy and tends to take cues from elites. This paper argues that the importance of elite cues gives democratic elites a crucial and often-overlooked role in democratic foreign policymaking. Elites can impose direct costs on leaders in ways that differ from public accountability. Four features of an elite audience — different preferences, concentrated power, informational advantages, and small coalition size — mean that the political logic of facing an elite audience is distinct from the public-driven logic of traditional models. These features give democratic leaders strategic incentives to bargain with, accommodate, or co-opt key elites, and to manage information flow among elites themselves. These elite political dynamics yield different insights than a voter-driven model, and have significant implications for theories of democracies and war. The paper explores the argument in the Vietnam War, arguing that Johnson’s main domestic political task was to manage elites as he pursued escalation.
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