New Hoover Essay in Public Policy: Personalizing Crises By Alastair Smith

Monday, November 20, 2000

Alastair Smith, former national fellow at the Hoover Institution, doesn't want a repeat of what he calls the "abject failure" of U.S. policy in Kosovo. Alastair Smith wants a strong leader in the White House.

In the complicated international environment of the new century, Smith sees the Kosovo crisis as emblematic of what the future holds; situations in which leaders unfriendly to United States' interests are demonized while the United States "claims to be friends of their people."

"It is the ordinary citizens in these countries that suffer the worst depravation as a result of U.S. policy," writes Smith.

His solution: Leader-specific policies carried out unflinchingly by a strong-willed U.S. president. It is a policy he details clearly in a new Hoover Essay in Public Policy, Personalizing Crises (Hoover Press, 2000).

Leader-specific policies identify threats to U.S. interests as originating with the responsible individual, the leader of the offending nation, explains Smith. "Targeting specific leaders rather than the nation they represent as a whole gives extra bite to foreign policy," claims Smith.

It is effective in two ways. First, he explains, it encourages the citizens of the offending nation to depose their "miscreant leader" themselves, providing a "domestic resolution to U.S. foreign policy problems." Secondly, a leader-specific policy "undermines the recalcitrant leader's grip on power" by identifying him as the source of an offending nation's international alienation and economic isolation.

However, the success of such a policy hinges on the strength and determination of U.S. leadership.

"Leader specific threats require a bold declaration of U.S. intent," explains Smith. "Hence, strong leadership furthers such policies."

What makes a strong leader? Here, Smith draws on the leadership models of Douglas Foyle's Counting the Public In: President, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 1999). Foyle divides leaders into two categories, those who "follow public opinon in forming decision and . . . need to generate public support to enact their policies" and those who do not. Those who are free from the constraints of public opinion he calls guardians, those who are not, delegates.

President Reagan was a guardian, explains Smith, Clinton, a delegate.

The Kosovo crisis illustrates Clinton's failure as a guardian-leader. While elements of a leader-specific policy were part of Clinton's overall policy toward Kosovo, "their piecemeal application rather than a strong explicit declaration of intent diminished their efficacy." This prompts a grave pronouncement from Smith: "On average, U.S. interests are much better served by a strong leader willing to take a bold stance early in crisis events."

Alastair Smith, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, was the Edward Teller National Fellow at the Hoover Institution from 1997 to 1998. He currently holds a grant from the National Science Foundation and has published articles in journals such as American Political Science Review, Economics and Politics, and American Journal of Political Science. His research focuses on mathematical models of international relations and comparative politics.

The Hoover Institution, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic and international affairs.