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The Remaking of American Strategy toward Iran and Iraq: Outline of a Theory of Foreign Policy Change
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study sets out to develop a realist-constructivist theory of foreign policy change. The theory claims that whenever policymakers believe that the distribution of power favors an expansive grand strategy or necessitates retrenchment, they will act accordingly. Similarly, when policymakers revise their images of other states – that is, whether they view them as hostile or friendly – change in existing strategy will follow.

The historical record of the (re)making of American strategy toward the Persian Gulf lends support to the theory. After having relied on pro-American Iran to balance Iraq in the region in the 1970s, Washington “tilted” toward Iraq to prevent post-revolutionary Islamic Iran from achieving victory in the ensuing war between the two regional powers in the 1980s. This offshore balancing strategy during the Cold War bipolar distribution of power gave way to the simultaneous containment of these regional adversaries in the post-Cold War unipolar era. However, some years after the adoption of this new strategy, it underwent a shift. Whereas concerted efforts were made to normalize relations with Iran after the presidential victory of a “reformist” candidate, Mohammad Khatami, the Clinton administration eventually adopted regime change as official policy toward Iraq. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on American soil, the George W. Bush administration endorsed a strategy of forcible regime change and democracy promotion, leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Over time, U.S. strategy toward these two regional powers has become more expansive – from offshore balancing limited to checking their outward expansion, to containment aimed at facilitating alteration in their policies, to outright regime change policy. However, with the erosion of unipolarity and the superpower’s retrenchment in the Middle East, we may witness a return to offshore balancing in combination with containment of a perceived hostile Iran. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Political Science, Stockholm University , 2013. , 317 p.
Stockholm studies in politics, ISSN 0346-6620 ; 154
Keyword [en]
Theory, Foreign Policy Change, Grand Strategy, Realism, Constructivism, the United States, Iran, Iraq
National Category
Political Science
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-96187ISBN: 978-91-7447-813-6OAI: diva2:664047
Public defence
2013-12-20, hörsal 4, hus B, Universitetsvägen 10 B, Stockholm, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2013-11-28 Created: 2013-11-13 Last updated: 2013-11-22Bibliographically approved

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Ahmedi, Idris
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