Resolving Conflicting Emotions: Obama's Quandaries on the Red Line and the Fight against ISIS

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The study of emotions in foreign policymaking has emphasized dominant discrete emotions and how they each lead to specific action tendencies. Scholars often focus on one emotion to explain decisions and have an additive view of emotions. This article argues that decision-makers often feel conflicting emotions and that emotions are not simply additive. What are conflicting emotions’ consequences for foreign policymaking? How are these conflicts resolved? The cases of President Obama's response to the Syrian chemical weapon attack in 2013 and the rise of ISIS in 2014 provide an occasion to study these questions on major security issues surrounding military intervention. This article argues that when decision-makers feel conflicted emotions their anxiety level rises, and that they are likely to attempt to gain time through procrastination, to resolve their conflict by focusing their attention on new developments, and to seek support to bolster confidence in their decision.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberorac016
Number of pages19
JournalForeign Policy Analysis
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The doctoral and postdoctoral research work on this article was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I want to thank Francesco Cavatorta, Simon Koschut, and Jonathan Paquin for their helpful comments in improving earlier drafts of this article. I am also very grateful for advice from all the participants of the workshop Emotional Public Policy at the 2020 European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions, especially the co-directors Tereza Capelos and Moshe Maor. I also presented an earlier draft of this paper at the 2020 annual meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology where I received great suggestions from Paul Kowert, Tuomas Forsberg, Hannah Kim, and Brianna Smith. I am grateful to the reviewers for their comments that have improved this article.


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