There are several theories that try and explain how Washington's decision making process works. The broadest theories encompass a sort of lens of the presidential decision making process. They are The Rational actor theory, Groupthink, governmental politics, and the organizational process. There are two other general types of governmental decision making patterns that help to strengthen the application of the aforementioned theories. These patterns are known as Presidential politics, and Bureaucratic politics. The rational actor model is the model that prevails when most people think of the president, and how decisions are made in the Whitehouse.
The rational actor model is best exemplified by JFK? s actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis. This theory projects the government as extremely hierarchical. The executive branch operates according to an authority pyramid with the president on top his closets advisors just below him ect. This theory assumes that the President is in charge and the policymaking process follows his the Presidents beliefs and wishes.
While the rational actor model might be the ideal Whitehouse decision making process the Groupthink theory also occurs with much frequency. Groupthink flourishes under small group behavior. This develops a high cohesiveness of the group, especially when the members have similar backgrounds or beliefs. Though groupthink shares a centralized decision making process with the rational actor theory, there is nothing rational about the way the groupthink process leads to decisions. In stead of being rational, and looking for the devil? s advocate, groupthink tends to overestimate the competency and morality of the group and also tend to rationalize decisions. Pressure is exerted towards members for uniformity which provides for the illusion of unanimity.
This type of thinking is exemplified when looking at LBJ? s decision making process during the Vietnam war, Regan's Iran Contra Scandal and George W. Bush? s decisions directly after the September 11 attacks. Governmental politics by contrast isn? t centralized under the president or is it rational. It is based on a pluralistic environment where power is defused. Governmental Politics depends on political competition and compromise between the policymakers. Governmental politics comes about when an agenda issues comes up that is deemed important enough to warrant the involvement of policymakers and bureaucrats, but not important enough to engage the President directly.
This type of decision making theory looks at decisions as extremely political, not a centralized as rational actor or groupthink theories, but also not as irrational as groupthink. The organizational process model revolves around a decentralized decision making process where the key decision makers are bureaucratic organizations, not the President or a group of policy makers. In this type of process US foreign policy is the sum of the different foreign policies that the bureaucracy installs. The bureaucracy has become so large that it is in fact what is moving the foreign policy process, the President acts only as its symbolic leader. This type of decision making process can lead to contradictions in foreign policy, because of the incremental nature of the policy making process. There are two basic levels of the Policy making process.
The first level is Presidential politics. Presidential Politics becomes active when n the President or his direct advisors become heavily invested and involved in an issue. This process then revolves around high level policymaking. Either a relatively open process occurs where there is a broad search for information and alternative decisions are made or a relatively closed processes a lot like groupthink occurs. Either way policy making and politics are intertwined in this process. The Bureaucratic policymaking process comes about when the President and his advisors remain uninvolved or are unable to dominate the decision making process.
When this occurs the other policymakers and bureaucratic organizations become involved. This type of policymaking could reflect the compromise and political competing that the Governmental Politics model consists of, or it could reflect the independent policies based on organizational routines like in the organizational process model. another possibility of the Bureaucratic policymaking process is that there could be such in fighting involved that none of the previously mentioned tactics could work and the process would be dictated by political winners and losers. This is probably one of the most frequently applied theories because the president and his advisors become involved in only selective issues..