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Bringing the boys back home: Campaign promises and US decision-making in Iraq and Vietnam

Payne, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-1936-8062 (2021). Bringing the boys back home: Campaign promises and US decision-making in Iraq and Vietnam. Politics, 41(1), pp. 95-110. doi: 10.1177/0263395720937205


This article argues that electoral politics acts as an important constraint on presidential decision-making in war. Going beyond the existing literature’s focus on cases of conflict initiation, it outlines how electoral pressures push and pull presidents away from courses of action which may otherwise be deemed strategically optimal. Importantly, however, these electoral constraints will not just apply on the immediate eve of an election but will vary in strength across the electoral calendar. Together, this conceptual framework helps explain why presidential fulfilment of rhetorical pledges made on the previous campaign trail may be belated and often inconsistent. To probe the plausibility of these arguments, case studies of the closing stages of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq are outlined, drawing on archival and elite interview material. These episodes demonstrate that electoral accountability can be a powerful factor affecting wartime decision-making, but its effect is non-linear, and not easily observed through a narrow focus on particular timeframes.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Publisher Keywords: elections, war, presidential decision-making, U.S. foreign policy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
SWORD Depositor:
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Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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