Cover of The Polythink Syndrome by Alex Mintz and Carly Wayne
The Polythink Syndrome
U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions on 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and ISIS
Alex Mintz and Carly Wayne

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January 2016
200 pages.
from $22.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804795159
Paper ISBN: 9780804796767

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Winner of the 2017 Alexander L. George Book Award, sponsored by the International Society of Political Psychology.

Why do presidents and their advisors often make sub-optimal decisions on military intervention, escalation, de-escalation, and termination of conflicts?

The leading concept of group dynamics, groupthink, offers one explanation: policy-making groups make sub-optimal decisions due to their desire for conformity and uniformity over dissent, leading to a failure to consider other relevant possibilities. But presidential advisory groups are often fragmented and divisive. This book therefore scrutinizes polythink, a group decision-making dynamic whereby different members in a decision-making unit espouse a plurality of opinions and divergent policy prescriptions, resulting in a disjointed decision-making process or even decision paralysis.

The book analyzes eleven national security decisions, including the national security policy designed prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the decisions to enter into and withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2007 "surge" decision, the crisis over the Iranian nuclear program, the UN Security Council decision on the Syrian Civil War, the faltering Kerry Peace Process in the Middle East, and the U.S. decision on military operations against ISIS.

Based on the analysis of these case studies, the authors address implications of the polythink phenomenon, including prescriptions for avoiding and/or overcoming it, and develop strategies and tools for what they call Productive Polythink. The authors also show the applicability of polythink to business, industry, and everyday decisions.

About the authors

Alex Mintz is Director of the Institute for Policy & Strategy (IPS) and Agam Professor at the Lauder School of Government, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya (IDC).

Carly Wayne is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan.

"Much attention has been paid to the consequences of groupthink; however, very little has been paid to this other end of the decision making spectrum: polythink. This book elaborates on the antecedent conditions, processes and consequences of polythink in decision making, and concludes with a discussion of the conditions that mitigate it and leverage it for effective decision making. In doing so, it adds an important element to the discourse on decision-making and policy making at all levels."

—Peter T. Coleman, Director, Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University

"This book offers impressive evidence in favor of polythink as a major factor impacting foreign policy decision-making. Case material from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the Iranian nuclear dispute, is treated in an original and stimulating way. A major contribution to foreign policy analysis."

—Patrick James, Dornsife Dean's Professor of International Relations, University of Southern California

"Americans excel in most things, from technology to music. But they keep failing in foreign policy. It is desperately important to understand why. The Polythink Syndrome offers a novel explanation—and possible remedies. This book is a major contribution and it will be influential."

—Edward N. Luttwak, Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC