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Obama's Surge: A Bureaucratic Politics Analysis of the Decision to Order a Troop Surge in the Afghanistan War


  • Author's notes: Kevin Marsh is a visiting assistant professor of political science at Wabash College. He received his PhD from Northern Illinois University in 2011. His research and teaching interests include US foreign policy-making, US national security policy, defense strategy, and foreign policy decision making.


This study examines the decision-making process leading to President Barack Obama's decision to order a troop surge in Afghanistan in December 2009. I analyze the decision-making process according to the precepts of the bureaucratic politics model and conclude that the bureaucratic politics model provides a compelling and descriptively accurate account of the Afghanistan surge decision-making process. Actors' policy preferences were influenced by consideration of bureaucratic role and position within government, significant examples of political activity occurred throughout the strategy review, and the ultimate decision was a political compromise.

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