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Consensus Lost. Consensus Regained?: Foreign Policy Beliefs of American Leaders, 1976-1980

Ole R. Holsti and James N. Rosenau
International Studies Quarterly
Vol. 30, No. 4 (Dec., 1986), pp. 375-409
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
DOI: 10.2307/2600641
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600641
Page Count: 35
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Consensus Lost. Consensus Regained?: Foreign Policy Beliefs of American Leaders, 1976-1980
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Abstract

To what extent there was a foreign policy consensus in the United States during the two decades following World War II continues to be debated. But most students of American foreign policy agree that the war in Vietnam fostered a situation reminiscent of the 1930s when there was little agreement on such basic issues as the nature of the international system, America's national interests and the most likely threats to them, and the appropriate strategies to promote those interests. Many of the `axioms' that guided policy through the initial decades of the postwar era were, after Vietnam, the subject of often intense debate. However, data on the persistence of cleavages, beyond the period immediately following the conquest of South Vietnam, are much scantier. The underlying issue in this paper is that of persistence versus change. Did the patterns of American leadership beliefs a year after the end of Vietnam persist through 1980?; and did the ideological, occupational, and other correlates of foreign policy beliefs change during these four years? Answers to these questions are sought in data from two nationwide surveys of American leaders in 1976 (N = 2,282) and 1980 (N = 2,502). The years 1976-1980 were marked by turbulence at home and abroad. Expectations that the end of the Vietnam and Watergate episodes would provide a period of healing proved to be overly optimistic. It was thus a period during which one might well have expected substantial changes in the content and structure of foreign policy beliefs. Indeed, claims of a convergence of beliefs were in ample supply as leaders in both political parties proclaimed the existence of a post-Vietnam foreign policy consensus. The data presented here, however, offer little evidence of change during the four years ending in 1980, much less of a new consensus.

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