Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan Woodward

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


intervention, American foreign policy, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iraq, Libya


The decision to intervene in another state's affairs is one of the most controversial foreign policy decisions an American president can make during his or her administration. From calls for isolationism during World War II to protests against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, intervention policies are often contentious and debated both inside and outside the White House. What explains this decision? How do leaders decide to intervene, or not intervene? I argue that, following the end of the Cold War, the decision to intervene militarily was no longer constrained by anti-Soviet or anticommunist doctrine, but instead heavily influenced by the policy preferences of elite advisors within the executive branch. Using conflicts from the first four post-Cold War presidencies, I demonstrate the influence of key officials and advisors in the decision to intervene in the Persian Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011. I then examine three cases of non-interference in U.S. policy—not enacting regime change in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm, initial reluctance to intercede in the Bosnian civil war, and the refusal to intervene after the use of chemical weapons in Syria—to further showcase the role of executive elites in the decision not to intervene.