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Models of crisis decision making and the 1990-91 Gulf War

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The 1991 Persian Gulf War is a “most likely” case for several crisis decision-making models. It commanded presidential attention, arose when bureaucrats were fighting over post-Cold War budgets, and evoked the strong organizational cultures of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. We use this case to assess the contexts, decision stages, and issue areas in which alternative crisis models have the most explanatory power. We find that presidents are most powerful in agenda setting, choosing among options, crises, and high-politics issues. Bureaucratic politics diminishes in crises and best explains the behavior of mid-level careerists, the formulation of options, and the shaping of post-war budgets. Most striking, even in crises organizational cultures strongly shape tactical military decisions, choices among weapons systems, and the willingness of officials to risk their careers on behalf of their organizations' values. Overall, these findings argue for greater attention to the influence of organizational cultures in crises.

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