Personality and Foreign Policy: Tony Blair's Iraq Decisions


  • Author's note: Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Annual Meetings of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, HI, March 1–5th 2005 and the Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, 7–10th April 2005. In addition to participants on these panels, I thank David Patrick Houghton and the journal's reviewers for their helpful comments.


The British choice in Iraq has been characterized as “Tony Blair's War,” with many believing that the personality and leadership style of the prime minister played a crucial part in determining British participation. Is this the case? To investigate, I employ at-a-distance measures to recover Blair's personality from his responses to foreign policy questions in the House of Commons. I find that he has a high belief in his ability to control events, a low conceptual complexity, and a high need for power. Using newly available evidence on British decision making, I show how Blair's personality and leadership style did indeed shape both the process and outcome of British foreign policy toward Iraq. The research reemphasizes the importance of individual level factors in theories of foreign policy, as well as offering a comprehensive explanation of a critical episode.