Friday, June 6, 2008

Groupthink or Gross Incompetence: The 2003 Invasion of Iraq

This paper examines the impact of groupthink on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. It applies the antecedent variables and symptoms as outlined in Irving Janis’s classic theory to the sixteen-month period between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003. The qualitative analysis closely mirrors that of the Yetiv (2003) study conducted on the George H. W. Bush administration’s decision-making process during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf Crisis, also a qualitative study. While the Yetiv (2003) study found that groupthink was evident within the administration and thus led to faulty decision making, because of the successful outcome of the Persian Gulf Crisis it concluded that the outcome need not always be policy failure. Thus Yetiv introduces the Non-Fiasco Theory, and makes recommendations for further research. The contribution this current analysis makes is that it analyzes arguably one of the most dynamic periods in American foreign policy making. This study concludes that the groupthink model is valuable in its ability to help us understand the actions of the Bush administration. Similar to a quantitative study conducted by Schafer and Crichlow (1996), this study also concludes that the antecedent conditions contributing to policy failure are largely within the control of the administration. This finding is promising for the success of policy outcomes for future administrations.

What conditions or combination of antecedent variables cause a four-star general, war hero, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state with a popularity rating that could win him the presidency to promote and defend publicly a course of action about which he has “serious misgivings?” (Powell, 2006). High stress? Low self-esteem? The individual in question is, of course, none other than former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The course of action is the invasion of Iraq on March 23, 2003, otherwise known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The conditions or combination of antecedent variables being considered are proposed in the theory by Irving Janis known as groupthink. Specifically, this paper asks: Was the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 the result of groupthink? It focuses on the five principal foreign policy actors George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice during the sixteen-month period between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003. In particular, it considers to what extent each of the individual actors led in the decision-making process, and to what extent each followed.
According to Janis, groupthink is a mode of decision making by a cohesive group lacking a tradition of impartial leadership and norms requiring methodical procedures. Driven by a false sense of unanimity, invulnerability, and self-righteousness, the group ignores policy options and makes faulty decisions without sufficiently considering potential outcomes (Janis, 1972). To put it more simply, specific factors within groups lead to poor decision-making, which in turn lead to policy failure. Janis suggests that decisions grounded in groupthink can be disastrous. In four case studies of U.S. foreign policy decisions, Janis found that when groupthink was apparent the
policies failed, and when it was not apparent the policies were successful.[1] Janis offers as a caveat, however, that good quality decision-making does not always lead to successful policy outcomes (Janis, 1972).
Janis suggests that groupthink is most likely to occur when certain antecedent conditions exist. These conditions include group cohesiveness, insulation of the decision-making group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodical procedures, homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology, high stress from external threats with low hope of a better solution than the leader’s, and low self-esteem temporarily induced by either recent failure, excessive difficulties on current decision-making tasks, or moral dilemmas. While Janis does not attribute groupthink to any of these antecedent conditions per se, he suggests that the conditions do tend to allow for certain symptoms to develop. The symptoms include an overestimation of the group (the illusion of invulnerability and a belief in the inherent morality of the group), closed mindedness (collective rationalization and stereotyping of out-groups), and pressure towards uniformity (self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, direct pressure on dissenters and self-appointed mindguards).
J. David Singer (1961, 78-80) suggests that there are three functions of an analytical model: description, explanation, and prediction. When describing a phenomenon, the goal is to “present as complete and undistorted a picture as is possible.” When explaining a phenomenon, which is the primary purpose of theory according to Singer, the goal is to offer a valid and parsimonious explanation of the causal mechanism. It is important that valid explanation be given priority over accurate description if the two are in conflict. Finally, an analytical model should provide for some level of reliable prediction. Singer insists that the most important decision any researcher makes is in matching the research with the proper level of analysis, whether systemic or sub-systemic. The contribution this case study makes is that it analyzes the internal dynamics of the top decision-makers in arguably one of the most dynamic periods in American foreign policy. This study concludes that the groupthink model is valuable in its ability to help us describe the decision-making process, explain the actions of the Bush administration, and predict whether groupthink will be a potential problem in future administrations.
The paper begins by briefly discussing the relevant literature. Then it addresses those antecedent conditions present in the George W. Bush administration between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003. Finally, it examines the symptoms of groupthink and identifies which appear to be present and which do not.

Relevant Literature
While three earlier studies have found the groupthink model to be lacking in its ability to predict decision-making outcomes in the field of foreign policy, both have likewise attributed this deficiency to a lack of rigorous testing in this field, rather than to the ultimate weakness of the theory itself. The first two studies are quantitative analyses by Schafer and Crichlow (1996, 2002). In their original study, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) found only five of the ten antecedent variables in Janis’s original model to be causal factors leading to both information-processing errors and faulty decision making.[2] The remaining five had no impact. Their findings suggest promising possibilities for future administrations. That is, three of the five antecedent variables that do not affect decision making involve mainly conditions that are out of the administration’s control (a short time constraint, high personal stress, a recent failure),[3] whereas those that do affect decision making are very much within the administration’s control (lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of tradition of methodical procedures, closed-mindedness, overestimation of the group, and pressures toward uniformity). This finding suggests that in theory, with the proper foresight much of the policy failures attributed to groupthink can be avoided in the future. [4]
Schafer and Crichlow (1996) suggest that the main reason for the theory’s popularity is that it makes sense intuitively. They also point to the considerable controversy generated by the theory; as well those who have sought to discredit it (see Longley and Pruitt 1980; McCauley 1989; Hart 1991; Haney 1994). In spite of numerous references to Janis’ theory, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) note that relatively little work has rigorously tested the theory. They point to a handful of case studies (see Hensley and Griffin 1986; Esser and Lindoerfer 1989; Mulcahy 1995) as well as Tetlock’s 1979 content analysis and three laboratory experiments (Flowers 1977; Callaway, Marriott, and Esser 1985; Leana 1985), but caution that such individual studies are neither generalizable nor do they “allow for rigorous comparative analysis” (416).
According to Schafer and Crichlow (1996), the obvious way to improve on the individual case approach is to incorporate multiple cases, such as Herek, Janis and Huth (1987), whose comparative analysis studied the decision-making process within a wider framework of 19 cold
war crises. While two studies challenge specific findings of Herek et al. (Welch 1989; Haney 1994),[5] the general finding that symptoms of defective decision making lead to increased policy failure is widely accepted.
Schafer and Crichlow (1996) build upon Herek et al.’s work. Whereas Herek et al. (1987) concluded that symptoms of defective decision making lead to increased policy failure, Janis originally hypothesized that certain antecedent variables precede such symptoms of defective decision making. Basing their quantitative approach on the same crises analyzed by Herek et al. (1987), and employing nearly all the same bibliographic sources, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) specifically test the causality of 10 antecedent variables identified by Janis in the original
groupthink model (group insulation, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of tradition of methodical procedures, group homogeneity, perceived short time constraint, low self-esteem caused by recent failure, high personal stress, closed-mindedness, overestimation of the group, and pressures toward uniformity).[6] They concluded that five variables are statistically significant (lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of tradition of methodical procedures, closed-mindedness, overestimation of the group, and pressures toward uniformity).[7] They also found that these five antecedent variables were positively correlated with Herek et al.’s seven symptoms of defective decision making (gross omissions in surveying alternatives, gross omissions in surveying objectives, failure to examine major costs and risks of the preferred choice, poor information search, selective bias in processing information at hand, failure to reconsider originally rejected alternatives, and failure to work out detailed implementation, monitoring, and contingency plans). Furthermore, they found that there is a cumulative effect: for each additional variable there is an additional resulting symptom of defective decision making (what Schafer and Crichlow term information-processing errors).
Janis’s theory predicts the presence of antecedent variables, which lead to symptoms of defective decision making, which in turn contribute to policy failure. While Herek et al. (1987) demonstrated the causal relationship between symptoms of defective decision making and defective policy, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) demonstrate the causality between antecedent variables and symptoms of defective decision making (or what they term “information-processing errors”). What is more, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) argue that Herek et al.’s findings emphasize the wrong independent variables. Instead of Janis’s three-stage process, Schafer and Crichlow (1996) found that the five antecedent variables were the causal factor leading to both information-processing errors and faulty decision making.
The third study, one that more closely mirrors this paper, is a qualitative analysis conducted by Yetiv (2003). Yetiv’s research concluded that while specific elements of groupthink were evident within the decision-making processes of the George H. W. Bush administration during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf crisis, it did not result in policy failure. Thus Yetiv introduces the Non-Fiasco Theory, and makes recommendations for further research. While this outcome is contradictory to what groupthink predicts, rather than discount it altogether, Yetiv suggests that more research is needed in order to understand whether positive outcomes may be predicted by the theory. Yetiv bases this conclusion on the fact that while Janis’s (1972, 1982, and 1989) groundbreaking research has initiated a growing body of work in decision-making literature,[8] “its non-laboratory application to political contexts outside the originally studied foreign-policy decisions is quite limited” (419).
This qualitative case study applies the antecedent variables and symptoms of Janis’s theory to the Bush administration’s decision-making process during the roughly sixteen months between 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While utilizing the model employed by the Yetiv (2003) study, it takes into consideration the findings of all three studies in arriving at its conclusion. This is very important. If it can be determined, as Schafer and Crichlow argue, that the antecedent conditions setting the stage for faulty decision making can be controlled, future administrations can avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes. More important, lives can be spared. In contrast, if the antecedent conditions in Janis’s model can lead to positive policy outcomes as well as policy failures, as Yetiv argues, the theory offers the field of foreign policy analysis very little. The gap that this paper attempts to fill within the body of literature is an examination of the possible presence of groupthink within the decision-making process during one of America’s most dynamic periods of foreign policy. In so doing, this paper both builds upon Schafer and Crichlow (1996, 2002) and Yetiv (2003), and applies their work in the analysis of the George W. Bush administration.

Groupthink and the George W. Bush Administration-Antecedent Conditions
According to Janis, the antecedent conditions that contribute to groupthink are a cohesive group, the structural faults of the organization (insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodical procedures, and homogeneity of the group), and a provocative situational context. In this section, the paper explores these antecedent conditions and identifies those that were present in the Bush administration between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003.
Group Cohesiveness
Janis predicts that groupthink is more prone in tight cohesive groups with members who exhibit espirit de corps (Janis, 1983, 249). Group cohesiveness can be measured by “the members’ positive valuation of the group and their motivation to continue to belong to it.” Highly cohesive groups will also tend to marginalize and exclude members that do not conform (Janis, 1972, 4). At first blush, one would be hard-pressed to find a presidential administration with more group cohesion. To begin, George W. Bush named a number of personnel who had served together under his father George H. W. Bush (some served under Reagan and Ford as well).
Richard Cheney, who had served Bush Sr. as secretary of defense, was now appointed vice president; Colin Powell, who had served Bush Sr. as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was now appointed secretary of state; and Condoleezza Rice, once senior director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council under the first Bush administration, was now appointed national security advisor. Another long-time Washington professional, Donald Rumsfeld, joined the administration as secretary of defense. Rumsfeld had served as secretary of state under Ford and as Middle East envoy under Reagan.
Even many of the junior players shared a long history with the inner circle. George Tenet, director of central intelligence, was a “high-level Clinton holdover” (Woodward, 2004, 67). Tenet was an NSC staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee under Clinton, who appointed him deputy director of the CIA in 1995 and then Director in 1997. Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, had served on the White House staff in 1987 under Reagan. He also served under George H. W. Bush, managing his presidential campaign in New Hampshire. Card went on to serve under Bush Sr. as deputy White House chief of staff, and later as secretary of transportation. Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley had worked for Cheney in defense. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had been serving in Washington since the 1970s. He had served as undersecretary of defense for policy under Cheney in the George H. W. Bush administration. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who served in three positions (assistant to Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff, and Cheney’s assistant for national security affairs), was a protégé of Wolfowitz. He first served under Wolfowitz in the state Department in the 1980s. Libby also served as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy in the George H. W. Bush administration when Wolfowitz was policy undersecretary for Cheney. Richard Armitage, Powell’s deputy and (best friend), had also served in Washington since the 1970s. Armitage served under both the Reagan and Clinton administrations (Woodward, 2004, 67). And last but not least, Karl Rove’s political career extended back to the Nixon presidential campaign in 1972. Rove advised George W. Bush when he ran for Congress in 1978 and George H. W. Bush when he ran for president in 1980.
Having only completed one full term as governor, George W. Bush was a “novice thrust into the presidency” (Woodward, 2004, 2). But what Bush lacked in experience he made up for in intuition. “Bush liked to think of himself as a ‘gut player,’ whose instincts were true, even when his knowledge might be shaky” (Purdum, 2003, 12). Given the President’s lack of experience in Washington, he relied heavily upon a group of foreign policy advisors known as the Vulcans. The group was named after the Roman god of fire because of a statue of Vulcan that stood in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. The Vulcans consisted of Rice, Wolfowitz, Armitage, Richard Perle (chairman of the defense policy board advisory committee), and Robert Zoellick (deputy secretary of state), but not Powell (Purdum, 2003). However, Bush particularly relied on Cheney, who by many accounts ran the show. Cheney dwarfed Andrew Card in his role as chief of staff, put together a highly experienced staff of his own, and took it upon himself to advance and empower the executive office (Wittkopf and Jones, 2008). Powell once noted that “things didn’t really get decided until the president had met with Cheney alone (Woodward, 2004, 392).
The president relied almost as heavily upon Condoleezza Rice, who had served as his chief foreign policy advisor in the 2000 campaign. As national security advisor, she boiled information down for Bush, spent entire days serving at his side, and vacationed in her own private cabin at Camp David. As for Rumsfeld, he and Cheney went way back. Cheney had been Rumsfeld’s deputy in the Ford administration, when Rumsfeld served as White House chief of staff. Cheney handpicked Rumsfeld for secretary of defense after several other top candidates were weeded out (Woodward, 2004). Both were powerful, and both were heavily connected in Washington (Wittkopf and Jones, 2008).
Even Powell, the thirty-five year army veteran who could be considered the “odd man out” in a sense, had “the gift of presence” (McGeary, 2001). Powell’s background and connections in Washington were also both considerable and impressive. He “had held multiple posts in Republican foreign policy and Washington power circles” and enjoyed direct access to the president (Purdum, 2003, 35). Powell even convinced the administration to ask Congress for a nineteen percent raise for the State Department (Jones, 2006).
But there were divisions. The main division was between Cheney and Rumsfeld on the one hand and Powell on the other. “Rarely… had there been such deep division within a national security team as between Cheney and Powell” (Woodward, 2004, 155). Cheney and Rumsfeld were pushing for a foreign policy based on aggressive unilateralism, while Powell was faithfully defending the traditional multilateralist approach of the State Department. Particularly, Powell wanted to take advantage of the “opportunities victory in the cold war offered...‘not by using our strength and position of power to get back behind our walls but by being engaged in the world” (McGeary, 2001).
Powell was a “moderate negotiator.” He was hesitant to resort to military force in Iraq. Powell was “adamantly opposed to attacking Iraq as a response to September 11. He saw no real linkage between Saddam and 9/11” and regularly found himself in opposition with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (Woodward, 2004, 23). This opposition stemmed from more than just Powell’s high-level position in the State Department. Powell had also served in the Defense Department as a military aide to Caspar Weinberger in the Reagan administration. In the words of Richard Holbrooke, “these aren’t just personal disagreements bred out of ambition and strong personality. These are deep, philosophical differences between two very different views of America in the world” (Purdum, 2003, 34).
Unfortunately for Powell, he never developed a personal relationship with the president. In fact, Powell spent little more than thirty minutes alone with Bush during the first sixteen months of the term. Therefore, his influence was generally overshadowed, and he was at times marginalized from the group (for instance CIA covert operations were briefed to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice, but not to Powell). Powell also had “tussles” with Rove. Powell wanted to place career people into slots designated for political appointees, but “Rove’s office vetted all the administration appointees…these political appointees were Rove’s patronage and his leverage into the departments. He followed them like a hawk” (Woodward, 2004, 25, 127).
Rice had her own difficulties with Rumsfeld as their respective staff encountered various altercations (Wittkopf and Jones, 2008), but she navigated carefully among the political power plays between state and defense as she nurtured and protected her growing influence with the president. As Colin Powell remarked, “She’s not supposed to be in my corner. She’s not supposed to be in Rumsfeld’s corner. She’s supposed to be in the president’s corner, and she is, she enjoys his confidence” (Burke, 2005, 236).
Differences aside, the group presented itself as unified before the public. As Powell remarked, “There are problems to be solved. And my job is to help the president find the right answer to the problems he faces” (McGeary, 2001). Even Armitage went on the record (along with Rice) to present a united front with Bush over Iraq (Woodward, 2004).[9] However, public appearances can be deceiving as even this façade crumbled and cracked at times, with Powell being cast as the administration scapegoat. Yet even with the many differences within the group, each member continued to be motivated to protect their membership. Powell’s intermittent marginalization further emphasizes the group’s cohesiveness, as one of Jarvis’s measures of group cohesiveness is marginalization of members that do not conform. Therefore, in this researcher’s opinion, the antecedent condition of group cohesion was present.

Group Insulation
Group insulation is the first structural condition in Janis’s groupthink model. Group insulation refers to “insulation of the decision-making group from the judgments of qualified associates, who, as outsiders, are not permitted to know about the new policies under discussion until after a final decision has been made” (Janis, 1972, 197). This particular antecedent condition was undeniably present in the Bush administration between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003. As former Nixon aide John W. Dean wrote, “George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime. Their secrecy is far worse than during Watergate” (quoted in Wittkopf and Jones, 2008, 329).
The administration secretly planned and prepared for war without disclosing it to the general public. Planning began in November of 2001 and included upgrading airfields in various Gulf countries, moving supplies to the region and the construction of necessary facilities. By April 2002, the planning and preparation for war was also being hidden from Congress. Bush had instructed General Tommy Franks not to make financial requests through Washington. “Anything you need, you’ll have.” The money would no longer be appropriated through congress. By the end of July 2002, Bush had approved more than thirty projects totaling over $700 million. Congress had no knowledge or involvement (Woodward, 2004, 122).
In December of 2002, Bush and Rumsfeld agreed to start secretly deploying troops into the theatre so as not to attract the attention of the press or the rest of the world. The first deployment order went out on December 6, 2002 and deployments continued every two weeks or so thereafter. Troops were given less than a week’s notice at times. In January 2003, the Bush administration arranged for much of its humanitarian relief to be disguised as general contributions to conceal its war planning from the NGO recipients. Yet, when asked about Iraq, Bush’s favorite response was “I have no war plans on my desk.” At one point or another after the planning began, nearly every member of the administration publicly denied any plans to go to war with Iraq (Woodward, 2004, 129).

Lack of Tradition of Impartial Leadership
This is the second structural variable. According to Janis, this condition prevails in groups whose leader disregards “organizational tradition” and instead pursues his or her own “preferred policies” (Janis, 1983, 249). Again, one would be hard-pressed to find a better example of this particular antecedent variable since President Richard Nixon. Even though each of the four major foreign policy players enjoyed direct access to the president, they worked “for a man who doesn’t tolerate being upstaged” (Woodward, 2004). Bush relied heavily on Rice to inform him of various policy options, and then he made the final decisions. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill puts it eloquently. Speaking of Rice he states: “She doesn’t drive to consensus. Rather she drives toward clarity. Then he [Bush] decides what the consensus is” (Burke, 2005, 236). On the morning of September 11, 2001, when President Bush was informed of the attacks, he decided on his own, right then and there that the nation was going to war: “I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war” (Renshon, 2008, 393).
The Bush II administration began with a foreign policy based on realism and selective engagement. Bush advocated selective engagement early on, while Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld were all realists in the early days of the administration (Purdum, 2003). Rice summarized the administration’s position in a concise article that clearly prioritized “national interest” over “humanitarian interests.” Rice asserted that “the Clinton administration has often been so anxious to find multilateral solutions to problems that it has signed agreements that are not in America’s interest.” Rice specifically noted treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty as “instructive.” The Bush II administration would focus on “power politics, great powers and power balances.” It would have no need of the recent foreign policy tradition of multilateralism (Rice, 2000, 47-8).
The Bush administration also broke with its own realist policies to pursue a neoconservative agenda of Wilsonian-style nation-building. In his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush “scorned ‘nation-building’ as a woolly-headed ambition that risked diluting America’s priorities and diverting its military into insoluble conflicts around the world” (Purdum, 2003, 11). Yet by August 2002, “the tone of the Bush administration’s rhetoric changed sharply.” Republican realists were deeply concerned with the administration’s break with the realist tradition. Individuals such as Scowcroft and Baker spoke out in disagreement with the administration. They saw Powell as their only remaining ally inside the inner circle. Scowcroft warned that a war with Iraq “could turn the whole region into a cauldron.” Retired General Anthony Zinni was present when Cheney gave a speech in Nashville on August 26, 2002. As he listened to the vice president state that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Zinni “nearly fell off his chair.” Zinni “had seen nothing to support Cheney’s certitude” (Ricks, 2006, 46-7, 49-50). Still, in spite of nearly universal opposition, President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. He argued that the United States had to intervene in Iraq in order to prevent terrorists from training in Iraq, to prevent terrorists from obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction against America, and to bring democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people (The White House, 2003).
The most important break with organizational tradition came with the Bush administration’s push toward the “imperial presidency.” This transition was marked by a myriad of developments including the passage of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act) otherwise known as the Patriot Act (The White House, 2006). The passage of the Patriot Act both reflected and contributed to a significant shift in the balance of power away from Congress and in favor of the executive office. The USA PATRIOT Act was passed by Congress within weeks and signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001, just fifteen days after the attacks. While the reach of this act is unprecedented, overriding some 48 state laws regarding civil liberties, the USA PATRIOT Act was just one of many developments that significantly increased the power of the executive office.
The Bush administration’s shift to the “imperial presidency” has been marked by a number of developments from an intensification of secrecy to the rejection of international treaties requiring Senate ratification to the doctrine of preventive war giving the president the power to unilaterally decide to go to war.[10] While a complete enumeration of these developments is beyond the scope of this paper, the administration’s strong push to empower the presidency demonstrates a major break with organizational tradition.
But which actor emerges as the clear leader in this administration, if any? Regarding decisions concerning military intervention, a major pillar of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, “the President generally defers to the Vice-President on all these issues” (Hersh, 2008, 378). Cheney “harbored a deep sense of unfinished business about Iraq.” The vice president was in favor of what George Schultz coined “hot preemption” (Woodward, 2004, 9, 129). As mentioned earlier in this paper, it was Cheney that worked so arduously to empower the executive branch. Yet Cheney was clearly chosen by Bush to serve his preferences, and not the other way around. Wolfowitz had been the preeminent neoconservative in the group. He earned his PhD in political science from the University of Chicago, “a cradle of what came to be called neo-conservative thinking on foreign policy and a hotbed of the anti-détente school during the Cold War.” Wolfowitz was a strong advocate for toppling Saddam, seeing Iraq as a threat as early as 1979. After September 11, 2001 he argued that there was a “10 to 50 percent chance that the Iraqi leader had been involved in the 9/11 attacks” (Purdum, 2003, 10, 13). Given the core of the Bush administration was carefully and methodically assembled by Bush himself, he emerges as the primary leader in the administration; a leader who proved well-equipped to manage the talents and Washington contacts possessed by his inner circle.
In the post-9/11 world, with the return of the “imperial presidency” as represented by the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and a host of other developments, a lack of traditional leadership is almost a given. When one then considers the Bush administration’s clear break with recent foreign policy tradition, a lack of tradition of impartial leadership remains the only viable option. This antecedent condition was definitely present.

Lack of Norms Requiring Methodical Procedures
“According to the groupthink hypothesis, members of any small cohesive group tend to maintain esprit de corps by unconsciously developing a number of shared illusions and related norms that interfere with critical thinking and reality testing” (Janis 1972, 36). In other words, policy determines intelligence, not the other way around. This antecedent condition was also present without a doubt. A widely known account regarding the decision to invade Iraq is CIA Director George Tenet’s alleged conversation with Pentagon advisor Richard Perle at the White House on (or around) September 12, 2001.[11] In a now famous interview with CBS 60 Minutes in 2007, George Tenet told his side of the story. According to Tenet, Perle told him: “Iraq has got to pay a price for what happened yesterday, they bear responsibility.” But Tenet explicitly denied the existence of any intelligence connecting Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda: “We could never verify that there was any Iraqi... complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America. Period.” Yet the Bush administration publicly linked Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda in an effort to blame 9/11 on Iraq. Tenet also denied the existence of any explicit evidence that supported Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction. Tenet insists that he consistently reported that in the intelligence community’s judgment “Iraq will not have a nuclear weapon until the year 2007, 2009.” As for chemical and biological weapons, the intelligence community believed Saddam had the capacity to produce them, but they had no knowledge that Saddam possessed them.[12] Still the Bush administration heavily justified the war in Iraq based on the alleged existence of such intelligence. In fact, Colin Powell reported to the United Nations, “Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.” What is even more incriminating for Tenet than for Powell, is that Tenet was present at the briefing. Furthermore, despite the fact that the CIA denied the existence of any intelligence supporting Saddam Hussein’s attempts to obtain uranium from Africa, even demanding the allegation be removed from two previous presidential speeches, President Bush made the allegation anyway in his 2003 State of the Union Address (60 Minutes, 2007).
According to Pillar (2008, 238-9), the Bush administration reversed the methodical procedures, instead of using intelligence to drive policy, it used “policy to drive intelligence.” Still worse, Pillar states that the “Bush administration deviated from the professional standard... in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war.” Pillar points out that the administration’s “cherry-picking” of intelligence to support its agenda completely disregarded the intelligence community’s recommendations and judgments.
Why would the Bush administration proceed in this direction? As previously discussed, the administration is alleged to have been planning and preparing for war with Iraq since as early as November 2001. Hoffman (2006, 1-2) argues that Cheney and Rumsfeld were “enraged” by the Clinton administration’s failure to act unilaterally and proclaim U.S. hegemony. He writes, “When George W. Bush came to power, September 11 provided what seemed an unchallengeable opportunity for a drastic change in strategy and in diplomacy.” This development, of course, begs the question: “Just how far back did their desire to invade Iraq extend?” On September 12, 2001, Rumsfeld suggested to the war cabinet that the attacks presented “an ‘opportunity’ to launch against Iraq.” Cheney favored the idea, but suggested the administration wait for fear the United States would lose its “rightful place as good guy” (Woodward, 2004, 25).[13]
Lobe (2002) offers a little history lesson regarding the emergence of the policy of unilateralism as it predates George W. Bush, but clearly pinpointing the implementation of it during the Bush administration’s first term. Lobe described the appearance of a certain document that had been leaked to the New York Times in the spring of 1992. That document, written by Paul Wolfowitz and Irve Lewis Libby (who at the time worked at the Pentagon under Dick Cheney), was the draft Defense Policy Guidance (DPG). The draft DPG called for American unilateralism, military hegemony and a policy of preemption. Lobe wrote that the draft DPG was described by one U.S. senator as “literally a Pax Americana.” Lobe himself states that the draft DPG was “essentially a vision of a world dominated by the unilateral use of US military power.” Its intended goal was to “prevent the rise of any possible challenger for the foreseeable future.” This sounds strikingly familiar. [14]
Obviously, quite a bit had changed between the spring of 1992 (when the draft DPG was first leaked) and September 11, 2001. The controversy caused by the leaked draft DPG led then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker to insist that “the final DPG was toned down to the point of unrecognizability.” By September 11, 2001, Cheney had risen to vice president, Wolfowitz to deputy defense secretary, and Libby to Cheney’s chief of staff. In its first year in office, the Bush administration “engineered what former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently described as a ‘radical break with 55 years of bipartisan tradition’ in US foreign policy making” (Lobe, 2002). class=Section5>

While this does little to confirm that members of the Bush II administration’s core had beholden a grudge against Saddam Hussein since George Bush Sr. was in the Oval Office, it certainly presents it as a credible possibility. Considering the administration’s immediate attempt to connect Iraq with al Qaeda following 9/11, it is a plausible explanation for its actions. It also reinforces the concept that even though Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had been biding their time waiting for the right opportunity to flex their unilateral displeasure, the right opportunity did not occur under George Bush Sr., nor did it occur under Clinton. The real question then, becomes: “To what extent might the Bush administration’s break with foreign policy tradition have occurred without 9/11?” While no one can answer that question with any assurance, 9/11 or not, it certainly would not have happened without the presence of a cohesive, and homogeneous group.

Homogeneity of the Group
“One of the main psychological assumptions underlying the groupthink hypothesis is that when a policy-making group becomes highly cohesive, a homogenization of viewpoints takes place, helping the group to preserve its unity by enabling all the members to continue to support the decisions to which the group has been committed. When one of the main norms is being committed to supporting a war policy… we expect that commitment will be bolstered by subsidiary norms that reduce disputes and disharmony within the group” (Janis, 1972, 116).
As stated earlier, Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld were realists, pushing hard for a foreign policy based on aggressive unilateralism. They formed the core around which Powell orbited. While Bush did not agree with Cheney’s cynicism toward the United Nations, he certainly did not share Powell’s naïve trust in it either. Bush wanted Saddam out. He was not happy with the pre-9/11 U.S. policy toward Iraq and he did not like having his options constrained: “The options in Iraq were relatively limited when you are playing the containment game” (Woodward, 2004, 27). Containment was placing heavy requirements on the military, with an average of thirty-four thousand sorties per year being flown to enforce it (Ricks, 2006).
By November 21, 2001, Bush was completely focused on Iraq. He placed updating the Iraq War Plan (OP Plan 1003) at the top of Rumsfeld’s list, and intelligence at the top of the list for Cheney. A “hard-line activist,” Rumsfeld was in favor of preemptive strikes. A “high-powered executive” with a “chief executive’s instincts and order-giving habits,” Cheney thought the weapons inspections in Iraq were useless. Cheney wanted a lower standard of proof for national self-defense and an active offensive strategy. Rumsfeld and Cheney were in agreement, no “smoking gun, irrefutable evidence” would be required. Nor would imminent threat any longer be necessary. Powell disagreed. Cheney saw Powell as “a problem…Colin always had major reservations about what we were trying to do.” Rice was optimistic that weapons inspections and WMD elimination could be modeled after South Africa. Yet, Rice was also fully aware of the secret war planning on Iraq. By December of 2002, Rice was recommending that the U.S. go to war against Iraq (Woodward, 2004, 23, 28, 411).
One could very correctly argue that Colin Powell, and his initial argument for the continued containment of Iraq, added substantial heterogeneity to the group. Yet his actions ultimately both supported and promoted the neoconservative agenda. When compared to his predecessor James Baker, Powell did relatively little or nothing to stem the ambition of Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. In the end even Bush, who originally leaned toward obtaining a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, supported their agenda with the decisions that he made. One observer notes, “After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn’t hold any water, as far as I’m concerned” (Purdum, 2003, 4).
While each of the five key foreign policy actors under analysis originally displayed distinctly different positions that could be argued made the group somewhat heterogeneous, this antecedent condition should not be discounted. Each eventually overcame his or her own personal doubt, and ultimately justified war with a subsidiary argument: Saddam must have WMD or why would he put up with a decade of sanctions? The threat of WMD justified going to war. Democracy in the Middle East was worth pursuing, even if through military means. The group trumped up their allegations with a largely fabricated ninety-two-page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which neither Bush nor Rice had read in its entirety. At the same time, members of the Bush administration made public appearances to support the NIE’s allegations. One such appearance occurred on September 8, 2002, when Cheney played the “insider’s card” on Meet the Press, claiming that “those who doubted his assertions about the threat presented by Iraq haven’t seen all the intelligence that we have seen.” The inherent problem with these types of assertions was that “the Bush administration’s statements about Iraq were not so much part of a debate about whether to go to war, they were part of a campaign to sell it.” Eventually the individual members of the administration all “fell into line…first Condoleezza Rice and then Bush himself would adopt the alarmist tone that Cheney had struck that day in Nashville.” Despite a number of objections to its claims, the administration forged ahead with its own agenda (Ricks, 2006, 51).

Provocative Situational Context: High Stress from External Threats
“It has long been known that group solidarity increases markedly whenever a collection of individuals faces a common source of external stress” (Janis, 1972, 5). While Janis makes it clear that high stress in and of itself does not necessarily lead to groupthink, Hensley and Griffin (1986, 511) suggest that the presence of high stress from external threats can substantially contribute to its effect. None can doubt that the events of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and the impending war in Iraq created heightened stress for the members of the Bush administration. Whether the source of stress was an attack on American soil, the fourteen other members of the Security Council rejecting the language of a proposed resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, or the likes of James Baker and Brent Scowcroft publicly denouncing its actions, the Bush administration was clearly in an “us against them” mind frame. Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), emphatically insisted that “Iraq’s weapons capabilities had deteriorated badly since the time of the Desert Fox raid” and that weapons inspections had produced “no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.” Yet the Bush administration “tended not to listen to people outside a small circle of insiders.” (Ricks, 2006, 70, 94). Therefore, this antecedent condition is naturally considered to be present.

Provocative Situational Context: Lack of Self-Esteem
According to the theory of groupthink, a lack of self-esteem can result from recent failures that make members’ inadequacies salient; excessive difficulties on current decision-making tasks that lower the member’s sense of self-efficacy; and moral dilemmas or an apparent lack of feasible alternatives except ones that violate ethical norms. “For all such sources of stress, participating in a unanimous consensus along with the respected fellow members of a congenial group will bolster the decision-maker’s self-esteem…The greater the threats to the self-esteem of the members of a cohesive decision-making body, the greater will be their inclination to resort to concurrence seeking at the expense of critical thinking” (Janis, 1972, 203, 206). Outside of the later testimonies of Colin Powell and George Tenet, it is difficult to determine to what extent any of these affected the five principal actors, if at all. Powell indicated after the fact that he felt pressured and manipulated, and Tenet also indicated afterward that the Bush administration had been misrepresenting the intelligence data; however this only reveals the possibility that these two long-time Washington professionals suffered a loss of self-esteem.
As for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice, it remains to be seen what their memoirs will reveal. As for now, the safest assumption to be made is that excessive difficulties and moral dilemmas likely confronted all five individuals. But that is all that can be safely assumed. Whether any self-esteem was lost in the process is not a matter of public record. To the contrary, Bush’ insistence in the morality of his actions in the face of worldwide protest betrays little remorse, if any. While “worldwide frustration at United States policy sparked massive, mostly peaceful protests that drew millions into the streets of the world’s major cities, in the largest demonstrations since the Viet Nam war…Bush himself insisted that the mass marches would have no effect” (Purdum, 2003,74-5). Therefore, for a lack of firm evidence, this antecedent condition should be discounted.
After applying the antecedent conditions prescribed by Janis in his model, this qualitative analysis finds strong evidence that groupthink was present during the sixteen months between the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. More specifically, this study discounts only one of the antecedent conditions as not present: provocative situational conflict- low self esteem. Group cohesiveness, group insulation, a lack of tradition of impartial leadership, a lack of norms requiring methodical procedures, homogeneity of the group, and provocative situational conflict- high stress were all found to be present. The assumptions of Janis’s groupthink appear to capture much of the decision. Still, while the theory offers explanatory power, it does not preclude other explanations.
Groupthink and the George W. Bush Administration-Symptoms of Groupthink
Janis suggested that the antecedent conditions explained above often lead to certain symptoms of groupthink that can contribute to defective decision making. These symptoms of groupthink include an overestimation of the group (the illusion of invulnerability and a belief in the inherent morality of the group), closed mindedness (collective rationalization and stereotyping of out-groups), and pressure towards uniformity (self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, direct pressure on dissenters and self-appointed mindguards). In this section, the paper explores these symptoms and identifies those that were present in the Bush administration between September 11, 2001 and March 23, 2003.

Overestimation of the Group
This set of symptoms includes the illusion of invulnerability and a belief in the inherent morality of the group. “In a sense, members consider loyalty to the group the highest form of morality… whenever the members foresee great gains from taking a socially disapproved or unethical course of action, they seek some way of disregarding the threat of being found out and welcome the optimistic views of the members who argue for the attractive but risky course of action” (Janis, 1972, 12, 204).
Bush wanted to establish democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. He saw this as the right thing; the inherently moral thing. While Powell did not agree that democracy in the Middle East was on the immediate horizon, he believed in serving his president as the right thing to do. Speech writers Michael Gerson and David From developed the label “axis of evil,” but the administration as a whole rallied behind it as justification for its actions as inherently moral. This moral conformity appears to be symptomatic as, with the exception of Powell, no other member of the administration verbalized reservations about starting a war with Iraq. Even still, though Powell had not originally been convinced by the intelligence data, on February 5, 2003 he presented it before the United Nations. Powell even elaborated upon it with his own interpretations in an effort to obtain a second resolution approving the use of force against Iraq (Woodward, 2004). Much of Powell’s speech had been based on the flawed NIE. Many in military intelligence circles listened in disbelief. “After Colin Powell’s address at the UN, my boss and I looked at each other and said, ‘What is going on here?’” a senior military intelligence officer later commented. “There was no doubt in my mind how weak the intel was” (Ricks, 2006, 92).
While the Bush administration made its moral arguments, opponents of the war saw nothing inherently moral about it. They retorted that “America did not go to war in Iraq to establish democracy... Democracy was a second-order goal” (Holmes, 2007, 25). Many critics of the Bush administration insisted that the administration took advantage of 9/11 as an opportunity to invade Iraq. For example Jeffrey Lantis and Eric Moskowitz (2005, 94) argue that the “idea to invade Iraq as part of a global war against terrorism was first raised with the president just four days after the September 11 attacks.” They contend that the idea continued to be discussed in “secret meetings” until the invasion of Iraq in 2003 finally took place. Dimitri Simes offers a somewhat clearer elaboration,
...quite a few of the most enthusiastic proponents for an invasion of Iraq both within and outside the administration- what we might term the “war faction”-were less interested in deliberately assessing the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD programs. Their main rationale in invading Iraq was to depose an Iraqi regime hostile to the United States and Israel-and to demonstrate to Arabs and others in the so-called Greater Middle East who was the real master of the region (Simes, 2007, 6).

The brunt of the argument is simple. The threat of WMD, whether an intentional fabrication or an honest mistake, was the product of certain members of an administration that wanted to invade Iraq for more than a decade before it actually did. “Yet, for obvious reasons, the ‘war faction’ never shared this goal with the American public. Only after it could not find WMD in Iraq did the administration shift the description of the intervention from finding WMD to a crusade for democracy in the Middle East” (Simes, 2007, 6).
Stern (2004, 111) expresses strong skepticism regarding the Bush administration’s sincerity or honesty concerning the actual threat of terrorism. Stern observes a “growing suspicion that the government sees value in making us more afraid and distracting us from foreign policy errors that are making America more hated and Americans less safe.” Stern points to President Bush’s continual rhetoric that America was in a battle with evil, and the unnecessary fear the administration generated immediately after the attacks and then took advantage of to further its war agenda.
Likewise, Xinnian Kuang (2005, 160) argues that just as “Hitler used the burning of the
Reichstag for his own ends, President Bush manipulated and took advantage of the fear created
by the 9/11 attacks.” Kuang also quotes Nelson Mandela, who referring to the Bush
administration stated, “anybody, and particularly the leaders of the superpowers, who takes
unilateral action outside the framework of the U.N. must receive the condemnation of all who
love peace....that country and its leader are a danger to the world.”
It wasn’t just traditional Bush critics that protested against the administration either. Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft wrote an open editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Don’t Attack Saddam.”[15] While Powell called to thank him, Rice was irate. Both former Secretary of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger also wrote articles warning against unilateralism. Even General Franks himself told Bush plainly on September 6, 2002 that he had no knowledge of WMD in Iraq. Franks told the president that they had been looking for WMD for 10 years and “I haven’t seen scud one” (Woodward, 2004, 173).
These criticisms are valid and should be taken into consideration when attempting to identify any genuine symptoms of groupthink. If the individual members of the administration did not sincerely buy into a belief in the inherent morality of the group, then groupthink may not have been present. Yet, in light of all the opposition faced by the administration, it is difficult to imagine otherwise. Why else would the administration, as a group with such diverse viewpoints, collectively rally around such an unpopular policy?
The war plan for Iraq itself demonstrates that the administration saw itself as invulnerable. General Franks never thought it would take more than 135 days from start to finish to wrap up combat operations. Based on the swift victory of the Persian Gulf War, many believed it would take even less time.[16] Particularly after Congress wrote Bush a blank check to go to war, he felt invulnerable, not only against Iraq but against the United Nations as well. Bush decided to tell the U.N. that either it’s “going to confront this problem or it’s going to condemn itself to irrelevance” (Woodward, 2004, 161). Therefore, in the benefit of the doubt, this symptom will be treated as evident.

Closed Mindedness
This set of symptoms includes “collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead the members to reconsider their assumptions,” and “stereotyped views of enemy leaders as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate” (Janis, 1972, 198). The administration’s break with the foreign policy tradition of multilateralism and its own realist policies combined with the strong push toward the “imperial presidency” suggest the presence of a number of symptoms of both groupthink (box C in Figure 1) and defective decision making (box D in Figure 1). The symptoms of groupthink would include closed-mindedness toward the abandoned foreign policy options, as well as all the collective rationalization and stereotyping of out-groups that would accompany such closed-mindedness. The symptoms of defective decision making would include virtually all of those listed in box D in Figure 1. Once the administration rejected the tradition of both multilateralism and its past realist policies, it chose to ignore a host of alternatives and objectives, refused to consider intelligence data that it did not want to see, and forged ahead with an aggressive unilateral strategy without sufficiently considering potential setbacks, reversals or contingency plans. The strong push toward the “imperial presidency” suggests a collective effort to avoid any warnings or prohibitions that might arise from the legislative branch.
Of course, one must consider the possibility that something other than groupthink is at hand. Buzan (2006, 1101) advances the idea that after the end of the Cold War, Washington experienced a “threat deficit” that it searched for some time to replace. He writes, “first Japan, then China, ‘clash of civilizations’ and rogue states.” But nothing could replace the Cold War to validate the United States’ role as leader of the West. When long at last the 9/11 attacks provided the impetus needed, the hawks were ready and waiting. The “GWOT had the feel of a big idea that might provide a long-term cure for Washington’s threat deficit.” In the months leading up to the attack on Iraq in 2003, in an effort to connect Iraq to the greater war on terrorism, the Bush administration tried desperately to convince the world that Iraq was in bed with al-Qaeda. Ansar al-Islam (“Partisans of Islam”), an al-Qaeda-affiliated guerilla group in Kurdish North Iraq, was alleged by the Bush administration to be the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell specifically cited the group before the United Nations on February 5, 2003 “as a key reason” to invade Iraq. But as the invasion grew closer, the Bush administration shifted its justification for attacking Iraq from its connection to al-Qaeda (Ansar al-Islam) to the threat posed by Iraq’s supposed cache of WMD. “After the war, it became a matter of common wisdom that Saddam had no links to al-Qaeda.” Moreover, Iraq did not have any WMD (Schanzer, 2004, 41).
It becomes tricky to differentiate between symptoms of groupthink and poor planning. It can be argued that the administration appeared to be following a grand strategy; undeterred in the face of all opposition. It could also be claimed that the administration simply moved from bad policy to worse, without any clear direction or course. Clearly, viable alternatives were not debated and discussed as they should have been. It is in this respect that this paper questions whether the administration is guilty of groupthink, or sheer gross incompetence. One could also reasonably question whether the administration’s determination to invade Iraq stemmed solely from its own closed mindedness, or whether other events such as the end of the Cold War and the attacks of September 11, 2001 contributed to the decision as well. Therefore, it is inconclusive whether this symptom was evident.
Pressure Towards Uniformity
This set of symptoms includes “self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus, a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view, and direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the groups’ stereotypes, illusions or commitments. It also entails the emergence of self-appointed mindguards- members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions” (Janis, 1972, 198). While Powell publicly defended the administration’s decision to invade Iraq at the time, even to the point of presenting erroneous information to the United Nations Security Council (Powell, 2004; The White House, 2003b), he later explained that he felt manipulated into doing so (Powell, 2006). This statement alone speaks to Powell’s role in the administration as primarily one of follower rather than leader. It also strongly suggests that at least two symptoms of groupthink were present: self-censorship and direct pressure on dissenters. Tenet also later spoke out concerning the administration’s misuse of intelligence data. The fact that Tenet waited to speak out also suggests pressure towards uniformity.
While these developments may suggest the presence of certain symptoms including self-censorship and direct pressure on dissenters, there is no real evidence of the illusion of unanimity or of self-appointed mindguards. The individual members spoke freely to one another concerning their respective views; even engaging in hot debates. While certain information appears to have been withheld from Powell, congress and the public in general, there does not appear to have been any outside information withheld from the administration as a group (even though the group often disregarded information that did not support its agenda).
The plot thickens, however. The administration’s deliberate withholding of information from Congress and outright deception toward the public necessarily dispels any myth that the administration was acting out of a collective sense of invulnerability and a belief in the inherent morality of the group. Otherwise, why hide and sneak and lie? Therefore, confirmation of the existence of one symptom tends to deny the existence of the other.

After applying the antecedent conditions and symptoms prescribed by Janis in his model, this qualitative analysis tentatively concludes that groupthink provides a fairly well-supported explanation of the Bush administration’s decision-making process during the sixteen months between the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, there are reasons to question this conclusion. More specifically, this study discounts only one of the antecedent conditions as not present: provocative situational conflict- low self esteem. This lends to the argument that the assumptions of Janis’s groupthink appear to capture much of the decision. However, while the theory offers explanatory power, it does not preclude other explanations. The reason is because the symptoms themselves are inconclusive.
Bush’s desire to take on the United Nations and establish democracy in the Middle East; the administration’s break with the foreign policy tradition and the strong push toward the “imperial presidency;” and the level of public uniformity and confidence displayed by the group amidst the media frenzy following September 11, 2001 all suggest that a number of symptoms of groupthink were present: from an overestimation of the group (including both the illusion of invulnerability and the belief in the inherent morality of the group) to closed mindedness (including collective rationalization and the stereotyping of out-groups) to an obvious pressure toward uniformity including self-censorship. These symptoms of groupthink appear even more evident when one considers that both Powell and Tenet later came forward with their own dissenting views that contradict much of their earlier association with the administration.
However, the illusion of unanimity and self-appointed mind-guards were not found to be present. Furthermore, the administration’s efforts to withhold information from congress and to deliberately deceive the public contradict the presence of both the illusion of invulnerability and the belief in the inherent morality of the group. Therefore the relevance of these symptoms is debatable at best. If it can be argued that certain symptoms of groupthink were present, it can just as easily be argued that others were not. The sincerity of the administration’s members is suspect. Therefore, the current analysis tentatively concludes that groupthink was evident in the George W. Bush administration’s decision-making process. However, it does not preclude other explanations.
Unlike the Yetiv (2003) study, this study does not conclude that the antecedent variables and symptoms culminated to produce a successful policy outcome. Whether or not they might have produced a successful policy outcome seems doubtful, but is never-the-less beyond the scope of this study. Yet, similar to the quantitative studies conducted by Schafer and Crichlow (1996, 2002), this study concludes that the factors contributing to faulty decision making are largely within the control of the administration. This is promising for the success of policy outcomes for future administrations.
Still more research needs to be done. It would be of great interest to see Yetiv’s concept developed further regarding the possibility of groupthink contributing to positive outcomes (even though that contradicts the predictions of the theory). More interesting, and perhaps of greater utility would be an extension of the Schafer and Crichlow (1996, 2002) studies to include the George W. Bush administration during its first term. It would be very interesting to see where the administration ranks with respect to other administrations in the analysis.
This study concludes that the groupthink model is valuable in its ability to help us describe the decision-making process, explain the actions of the Bush administration, and predict whether groupthink will be a potential problem in future administrations.


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[1] Janis examined Franklin D. Roosevelt and the failure to prepare for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harry S. Truman and the invasion of North Korea, John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Lyndon B. Johnson and the escalation of Viet Nam.
[2]See Figure 2 in Appendix B.
[3]Schafer and Crichlow (1996) found no difference in decision-making between homogeneous groups and heterogeneous groups. Furthermore, they found that in the five presidential administrations studied, group insulation was too rare to be assessed for its contribution to faulty decision making.
[4] Schafer and Crichlow (2002, 66) conducted another study of 31 cases from 1975 through 1993 in which they concluded similarly that “the situational context in which decisions are made is not key, the structure of the decision group and how it processes information are important-and, in many cases, decision makers can improve these latter two factors.”
[5]Welch (1989) argued that Herek et al.’s finding revealing two symptoms of poor decision making during the Cuban missile crisis was in error. Welch challenged Herek et al.’s decision-making process coding, insisting that there were five symptoms rather than two. Haney (1994) recoded five case studies using a five-point scale for decision-making rather than the dichotomous scale originally employed by Herek et al. (1987).
[6]Compare Figure 1 in Appendix A with Figure 2 in Appendix B. The authors acknowledge that the actual wording of the model and variables has evolved over time, but the main thrust has remained the same: antecedent variables produce symptoms of defective decision making, which in turn lead to policy failure.
[7]Schafer and Crichlow (1996) found that the Truman, Johnson and Nixon administrations averaged four or more of the antecedent conditions, with the Johnson administration highest at 6.75 per crisis. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations averaged one and two antecedent conditions per crisis respectively.
[8]Yetiv refers the reader to Paul ‘t Hart, Eric K. Stern and Bengt Sundelius, eds, Beyond Groupthink: Political Dynamics and Foreign Policy-making (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997); Won-Woo Park, ‘A Review of Research on Groupthink’, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 3 (1990), 229-45; Paul B. Paulus, ‘Developing Consensus about Groupthink after all These Years’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73 (March 1998), 362-74; A. Amin Mohamed and Frank A. Wiebe, ‘Toward a Process Theory of Groupthink’, Small Group Research, 27 (1996), 416-30.
[9] See “U.S. to Press Iraq to let U.N. Search for Banned Arms.” The New York Times December 1, 2001.
[10] For a more thorough discussion of the return of the imperial presidency, see Wittkopf and Jones, 2008, 329.
[11]Perle denies being in the country on September 11, 2001.
[12] Iraq’s biological and chemical capacity had been disabled in the 1998 airstrikes known as Operation Desert Fox (Ricks, 2006).
[13] See also Purdum, 2003, who records that it was initially Wolfowitz who advocated the idea to invade Iraq.
[14]President Bush’s conception of “military strength beyond challenge” necessarily subjugates all other militaries of the world to U.S. domination (The White House, 2002).
[15] See the Wall Street Journal August 15, 2002.
[16] The Persian Gulf War lasted only forty-two days, with a total of one hundred hours of ground combat (Purdum, 2003, 14).

1 comment:


Mr John Maszka,

I've read your 'Groupthink' article
re 6/06/08 with considerable interest. The detailed analysis of the 18 months between 09/11/01 and March 23, 2003 provides a good historical perspective. In particular, the interplay of Bush & Cheney with Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and Gen Colin Powell. These were the most important figures leading up to the U.S. Assault on Saddam's Fortress Iraq; certainly a worthwhile study.
However, while acknowledging your efforts, I must remain steadfast in focusing on the current menace that spends huge amounts of money to CHANGE the political climate here in the USA.

Thanks for your valued input. reb