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Presidential Saber Rattling


  • 25 b/w illus. 12 tables
  • Page extent: 0 pages

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 (ISBN-13: 9781139415828)

The founders of the American republic believed presidents should be wise and virtuous statesmen consistently advocating community interests when conducting American foreign policy. Yet the most common theoretical model used today for explaining the behavior of politicians is grounded in self-interest, rather than community interest. This book investigates whether past presidents acted as noble statesmen or were driven by such self-interested motivations as re-election, passion, partisanship, media frenzy and increasing domestic support. The book also examines the consequences for the nation of presidential behavior driven by self-interest. Between 1945 and 2008, presidents issued 4,269 threats to nineteen different countries. Professor B. Dan Wood evaluates the causes and consequences of these threats, revealing the nature of presidential foreign policy representation and its consistency with the founding fathers' intentions.

• Assesses the nature of American presidential representation in the area of foreign policy • Challenges common international relations theories which argue that leaders' foreign policy behavior is driven primarily by the international system, signaling or diversionary tactics • Demonstrates that although presidents benefit domestically from making threats, the US suffers economic costs of ineffective foreign policy


1. Presidential saber rattling in the early American republic; 2. Presidential saber rattling and presidential representation; 3. Measuring presidential saber rattling; 4. The causes of presidential saber rattling; 5. The domestic consequences of presidential saber rattling; 6. The foreign policy consequences of presidential saber rattling; 7. The Bush war on terror and presidential foreign policy representation; 8. Wisdom, virtue, and presidential foreign policy representation.


'Students of the presidency have given immense attention to presidential public rhetoric and presidents going public, but rarely have studied a president's foreign policy rhetoric. B. Dan Wood, one of our most respected presidency scholars, does so in Presidential Saber Rattling. Not only does Wood develop the concept of presidential saber rattling, but he meticulously collects and analyzes more than 50 years of such presidential rhetoric. And he reminds us that saber rattling is an important form of presidential policy making. [This book] is destined to become a classic and to stimulate future research.' Jeffrey E. Cohen, author of The President's Legislative Policy Agenda, 1789–2002

'Rich in historical case studies and data analyses, Presidential Saber Rattling casts new light on the reasons presidents use bellicose foreign policy rhetoric and on the consequences of such rhetoric domestically and internationally. This book will be essential reading for students of American politics and United States foreign policy.' John R. Freeman, University of Minnesota

'This book tackles the big questions of the causes and consequences of presidential saber rattling. It introduces impressive new data and careful analysis to provide [a] terrific new insight into this aspect of presidential decision making.' David E. Lewis, Vanderbilt University

'Presidential Saber Rattling makes important contributions to literatures on both democratic representation and the role of domestic politics in military policy making. It also opens many doors for future research at the intersection of American politics and international relations scholarship.' Douglas Kriner, Congress and the Presidency

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