The U.S. Senate and Iraq: Who Changed their Views, and Why?

Andrew Bennet, Andrew Loomis
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for International Peace and Security Studies
Focusing on the evolving views of the 77 U.S. Senators who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, we seek to explain why some political leaders changed their views markedly from 2002 to 2008 and others did not. We argue that in view of the great preponderance of evidence that the initial premises of U.S. intervention in Iraq were not fulfilled, Bayesian updating cannot by itself explain the persistence of divergent views on Iraq. It is also puzzling that a half-dozen senators persisted in their support of Bush's position on Iraq even though this may have contributed to their electoral defeat. We use a combination of political and psychological variables, including ideology, party affiliation, safety of the senator's seat, military service, cognitive style, and presidential aspirations to explain why some senators changed their public positions on Iraq within a year, others did so by 2006, still others in 2007, and some changed very little in more than five years. We combine these variables into a typological theory and test it against a qualitative analysis of 20 senators' views on Iraq. We conclude that our model is relatively successful in predicting not only when senators' views changed but what rationales they gave for why their initial expectations were not borne out. We also note several senators who prove important anomalies for our model, including Senators Lieberman, who was the only Democrat who did not move toward opposing Bush's policies, and McCain, who thus far has not moved toward the political center on Iraq despite having effectively secured his party's nomination.
Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, War, Weapons of Mass Destruction
Political Geography
United States, Iraq, Arabia