Historical Analogies and the Definition of Interests: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and Ronald Reagan’s Policy Toward the Hostages in Lebanon

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Abstract

Students of political psychology have long shown an interest in exploring how analogical reasoning affects decision-making. However, the existing literature on analogical reasoning has remained within the rationalist explanatory framework by assuming that an actor's interests can be deduced from that actor's position in a certain material structure, thus treating those interests as unaffected by the process of analogical reasoning. This assumption unduly restricts the role that analogies may play. Analogies can do more than simply allow decision-makers to figure out what specific policies will advance their preexisting interests—they can also determine the interests themselves. To demonstrate the benefits of moving the analogical literature beyond rationalism, this article explores the Reagan administration's policy toward American hostages in Lebanon, which culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal.

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