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In this respect, it was not the reality which mattered but rather the perception of that reality. Most of the times during the Cold War, but especially after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reality showed that the perception of the Russian Soviets as the strongest forces in the world was often not true. Still it motivated the U.S. To consider all sorts of side games to defeat the communist threat, which in fact was not as big as considered throughout the decades.
Diversionary war has its own motivation in terms of psychological impact on the population. People tend to view the international threat as being the ultimate point of reference for danger. The state in itself is the most trusted instrument for the insurance of security, and an international threat constitutes the questioning of this establishment. More precisely, it has been argued that "as the leader of one of the world's great powers, the president of the United States is charged with the responsibility of guiding and implementing policies to protect and advance U.S. interests abroad. This is an onerous responsibility; the fortunes of various presidents have risen or fallen on the basis of the American's public satisfaction with their performances in this capacity. Moreover, the role of engaging one's forces abroad can be simplified by concluding that "an external threat fosters cohesion within a country." Moreover, Morgan and Bickers point out that the ratings of a president tend to rise when he uses military force on the base of the assumption that he is acting as commander in chief for the protection of the American interests' abroad.
The weaknesses to these theories, that the decision to wage war is dependent on the way in which the president is perceived by the public opinion and that it represents a means to conduct domestic politics are pointed out especially by Mernik who argues that the president must have the opportunity to use war as a diversionary technique. This is strongly related to factors such as "threats to the territorial security of the U.S., its current allies, major clients, or proxy states; a perceived danger to U.S. government, military, or diplomatic personnel (...) events that have led, or likely to lead to advances by ideologically committed opponents of the U.S. (...) events likely to lead to losses of U.S. influence in regions perceived as within the U.S. sphere of influence (...) events involved inter-state military conflict of potential consequence.
Even with an opportunity to wage wars, empirical studies have pointed out, as suggested by Mernik, that in 213 occasions in which these opportunities were present, no military action was conducted. This comes to point out the fact that there are some aspects which are determinant for the decision to take a military action. Indeed, as Mernik stressed, there are three main points to take into account when considering military action: the interests of the Americans, the image of the president on the domestic field, and the limitation for confrontation with the Soviet Union. While the first two are still applicable, the third one focused precisely on the Cold War era. However, the statements are considered in order to counter statements made during the Cold War, when a direct confrontation with the Soviet Union would have raised serious questions for the resolution of the lingering side conflicts that took place after the end of the Second World War.
The major discontent concerning the idea of using international force to distract the public attention from domestic problems is that even when all the elements were present, such as a positive perspective on the president, and an increasing approval rate, the decision to actually use military force was not taken.
Another weakness considered by those arguing against the use of diversionary war is that according to major theories arguing the cohesion of groups around the possibility of a threat cannot be fully supported. In this sense, it is argued that the nation-state represents the expression of a wide diversity of groups. In this sense it is rather difficult to comprehend the unity of all the groups making up the state in order to give legitimacy to a foreign policy decision. More precisely, Clifton and Bickers argue that "it is not clear that the assumption that external enemies rally internal support is as well founded as it first appears. Levy (1989) points out that the argument draws heavily from the sociological literature showing that an external threat increases the cohesiveness of a small group (e.g., Simmel 1955; Coser 1956). Extending these findings from small group behavior to organizations as large and complex as nation-states is, at the very least, problematic. States consist of many groups that may be seriously at odds with one another and, in some cases, may even feel less enmity toward foreign groups than toward competing domestic interests." Therefore, the outcome may actually be opposite to the aim of unity behind a certain international threat.
This discrepancy in the theory is given in particular to the different points of reference taken by scholars. In this sense, it is pointed out that the weakness of this idea is given by the lack of a substantial survey. More precisely, only certain groups are taken as reference, and not the entire population. This can be argued by considering that what is important is the majority and not the unanimity; however, it cannot be said, according to Clifton and Bickers, that an intervention outside the borders of the United States insures a definite level of acceptance for the president and its administration.
Another point which comes to consider a weak aspect of the theory regarding the diversionary war theory is related to the possibility of the president and commander in chief to take on unilateral decisions. While the supporters of the diversionary war consider that in fact the decision to go to war is not dependent necessarily on the opportunity to do so, others suggest that in fact the desire and opportunity to go to war for political purposes depend on the personality of the president. More precisely, "every president makes decisions and establishes his foreign policymaking processes differently. While institutional pressures and limitations exist for every president, the process and presidential 'style' especially during military decisions appear to be strongly based on a president's individual preferences."
It cannot be argued a generalized opinion on the matter of choice for the military intervention as a means of increasing its public support. There are several examples in which presidents did not intervene, not because they failed the opportunity to do so, or because the public opinion would have disapproved of its intention, but rather because it was not the best solution for the conflict at hand. One of the most eloquent examples in this sense was the Kennedy administration's decision not to enter in conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile crisis. Indeed the situation represented a threat to the national security of the American population and during that period the nuclear threat was the worst case scenario for any administration. Despite the fact that the approval ratings for President Kennedy were comfortable, he refused to enter open conflict with President Khrushchev, a decision many disagreed of after the de-escalation of the conflict. From this point-of-view, it may seem plausible that not all opportunities for intervention are taken in order to boost the domestic support. Critic theory points out that the decision is also depending on the personality of the president and its decision making perspectives.
Moreover, this aspect is important because it also offers a counterargument for those who support the idea that diversionary war is also conducted to maintain the prestige of the American presidency. Kennedy's example is again worthy of mention.
Finally another weakness which stretches not only to the actual reasons for the use of force as a diversion but also to its actual definition is the limited data available for analysis. In this sense, James Meernik points out that "most data sets on the political use of military force contain data pertaining only to situations where force was used and not to those occasions where presidents refrained from deploying the military." Moreover, Meerick stresses that "we have no way to evaluate presidential decision making when a use of force was considered, but not utilized. We are forced to assume that presidential decision making in a quarter when no use of force took place is analogous to decision making in a crisis where no force was used."
Referring to the possibility of scholars to predict the use of force in terms of time periods he argues that little is known about the way in which possible uses of force were deterred and resulted in non-violent situation. More precisely, it is the matter of having the information at hand for both cases in which force was used and was not used. Therefore, information appears more visible for the situations in which war was in fact waged and…[continue]
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