Personality and US presidential choices: a study of the protracted Afghanistan war
The 20-year-long US war in Afghanistan, which started in 2001 and ended in 2021, resulted in significant civilian casualties, US military deaths and financial costs. This protracted war raised the question of why the war endured for so long despite such terrible costs. In order to answer this question, this thesis explores the causal relationship between the personalities and leadership styles of US presidents George Walker Bush and Barack Obama and their decision-making relating to US continuation of this war. Bush’s and Obama’s personalities and leadership styles are examined using Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA). Further personality-based expectations relating to the two presidents’ policy orientations and decision-making are developed based on their scores on the seven LTA traits. These expectations are examined in two case studies of five major occasions for decision and two subsequent policy changes relating to the Afghanistan war. The findings confirm that Bush’s and Obama’s personalities help understand and explain their continuation of the Afghanistan war. First, their war orientations are consistent with the expectations based on their distrust of others. Another trait, in-group bias, also helps explain their continuation of this war. Second, the different ways in which the two presidents managed their decision-making processes and shaped the policy outcomes are mainly consistent with the expectations based on their personalities. Third, leaders’ openness to divergent voices in decision-making is based more on their conceptual complexity and can be influenced by their task focus and inexperience in different ways. Findings from this thesis contribute to the existing scholarship on the post-9/11 US foreign policy in Afghanistan, especially US continuation of the US-Afghanistan war. Furthermore, this thesis makes two main theoretical contributions to LTA theory. First, it explores and identifies the causal relationship between leaders’ distrust of others and their continuation of the war. Second, it examines and identifies factors (leaders’ task focus and inexperience) that influence the effects of leaders’ conceptual complexity on their openness to divergent opinions in decision-making.