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us covert actions: the exposure effect and the president's


Academic year: 2023

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I would also like to express my gratitude to the Department of Political Science and International Relations for creating an intellectual environment, which gave us insight into what it meant to be a graduate student. I would also like to recognize my mother, Zhankumis, for all her love and support. Based on the results of case studies, it is concluded that the disclosure of secret actions had a less significant effect that lasted temporarily and did not have a major impact in the longer term.

Overall, this study advances our understanding of causal mechanisms shaping the effect of covert action.


In pursuit of my goal, I look at the effect of exposure on presidential popularity by examining the history of the use of covert action in the United States. Therefore, the final question I address in my research is what is the effect of covert action exposure on the US. Overall, the assessment of all these aspects of covert operations constitutes the main value and contribution of my study.

Before starting the examination of covert action's various aspects, I propose both general and more project-oriented definitions of what I mean by the term "covert action".

Literature Review

I then consider the literature on covert action as a tool of foreign policy and how it can affect a leader's popularity. This, in turn, may explain why democracies may conduct covert operations against other established or "new" democracies. In this sense, it is important to check whether such tendencies would be consistent with the use and disclosure of covert actions.

Similarly, Downes and Lilley (2010) used both democratic peace and selectorate theory assumptions to examine the logic behind choosing covert action as a foreign policy tool against democratically elected governments.

Theoretical Framework

With this in mind, I view a president's use of covert action as a foreign policy tool that he/she implements to provide his/her W and S with necessary public and private goods. A leader may also face consequences at the international level, where other states may express their distrust of the actions of the state engaging in covert actions. However, the effect of covert action exposure may be different if there is a visible difference between the regime types of initiator and target states.

Evaluating these hypotheses should give us new insights into how exposure to covert action may affect the US.

Research Design

If the uncovered covert action was led by a drop in presidential approval ratings of at least 5%, then I would consider such a case to have had an effect on the popularity of the incumbent leader. Exposure to covert actions that were followed by a smaller decline in presidential approval is considered to have an insignificant effect. The difference or similarity between the regime type of the initiator and the target state should, I assume, influence the effect of exposure to covert action.

Cases of Covert Actions Country Exposure Initiating President Covert Action Initiated (year) Polity2 Rating before covert action [year]. The table above gives an overview of my cases with the list of initiating presidents and the start and exposure dates of the covert action, and also shows the polity2 results before and after each covert action. Since some of the covert actions caused regime change, I consider the polity2 score before the start of the covert action year to indicate the regime type of the target state.

In addition, I provide the polity2 score for the year after the covert action to illustrate whether there have been changes in the regime type of the target state. This in turn supports my first hypothesis, which states that the unmasking of the covert action should have a negative effect on a US. I choose one case of covert US action against a non-democratic state, namely Nicaragua, and the other case against a democratic state. state, namely Chile.

To deal with this issue and with the aim of properly addressing my research question, by focusing on the in-depth analysis of causal mechanisms of covert action's exposure that affects the US president's popularity, it is investigated by: (1) the extent to which the exposure was covered in the media, (2) the impact of congressional investigations, (3) presidential approval ratings evaluated by public opinion polls, and (4) election results after covert actions.

Table 1. The U.S. Cases of Covert Actions, 1949-1986* CountryExposure President Initiator Covert actioninitiated (year) Polity2  score before covert action [year]
Table 1. The U.S. Cases of Covert Actions, 1949-1986* CountryExposure President Initiator Covert actioninitiated (year) Polity2 score before covert action [year]

U.S. Covert Action in Chile, 1970-1973

The main reason for this support was to prevent Frei's main counterpart – Salvador Allende – from becoming president, whose victory would lead to the nationalization of the Chilean economy (Qureshi 2006, 40). There is also a declassified CIA report (Kornbluh 2011), which assesses the situation in Chile before Allende's victory in the 1970 elections. In June 1971, the Chilean Congress passed a bill unanimously authorizing the nationalization of the copper mines in American hands (Goldberg 1975: 108).

This, as we now know, led to one of the bloodiest episodes in Chilean history. It all started with Jack Anderson's unveiling of the I.T.T. 's secret documents and memoranda detailing the cooperation between the I.T.T., Nixon administration and the C.I.A. Therefore, since the mass media attention of that year was mainly focused on the Watergate scandal, it is difficult to discern the effect of the news related to the Chilean covert action.

As Chairman Church noted in his opening statement, "the nature and extent of the U.S. role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Chilean government are matters of deep and continuing public concern." of President Ford's presidential approval starting with the beginning of the investigations, which began on January 27, 1975. If there were any effect from the congressional investigations, they should have affected Nixon's Republican successor - Gerald Ford.

The Senate could be used as an indicator of the popularity of the president's party or of the president himself (Cover, 1986; Marra and Ostrom, 1989). The reputational damage of the Watergate scandal destroyed the foundations of public trust in both Nixon and Ford. Both the presidential and midterm elections summarize the overall effect of the Watergate scandal.

This was mainly due to the massive media coverage of the Watergate scandal, making it difficult to underestimate its impact on public opinion.

Figure 1. Presidential Job Approval Rating of Richard Nixon, 1969-1974.
Figure 1. Presidential Job Approval Rating of Richard Nixon, 1969-1974.

U.S. Covert Action in Nicaragua, 1980s

Despite the ban, the Reagan administration launched several sabotage operations during the years of 1983-84. However, the Reagan administration was so desperate to secure the release of the hostages and to find the sources to finance the contras that they initiated the deal. The Iran-contra affair can be evaluated as one of the greatest constitutional confrontations between Congress and the White House (Timbers 1990, 31).

Overall, the Tower Commission concluded that the entire NSC system was functioning at an adequate level and that it was the fault of the people, rather than the structure itself, that led to the infamous Iran-contra affair. Later, these officials would be recognized as the main bearers of responsibility for the Iran-Contra affair. The only significant decline in presidential approval occurred at the onset of exposure to the Iran-Contra affair in the period between November and December 1986.

To assess the impact of the Iran-contra affair, I look at the results of the presidential and midterm elections during President Reagan's term. The November 4, 1986 midterm elections, held immediately after the Iran-contra arms initiative was revealed, show a smaller loss of seats for President Reagan. Reagan's heir apparent at a time of the president's resurgence in popularity and general satisfaction with the state of the national economy” (Dionne 1988).

In addition, the Reagan administration had made a deal with Iran, one of the most hated of the United States. To conclude, there was no lasting effect of the Iran-contra affair disclosure on President Reagan's popularity.

Figure 3. Presidential Job Approval Rating of Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Figure 3. Presidential Job Approval Rating of Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Conclusions and Further Implications

While the results of my preliminary case classification supported my hypotheses, the in-depth case studies told a more nuanced story. The interesting fact is that the fame of both covert actions was followed by a decline in the president's popularity; however, it only had a temporary effect. In the case of Chile, most public attention was overwhelmingly dominated by the Watergate scandal.

In the case of Nicaragua, the effect of making the Iran-contra affair public disappeared over time, even though there were immediate indications of public dissatisfaction. After conducting my qualitative analyses, I conclude that the exposure effect varies from case to case, depending on several factors. This project illustrated the importance of factors such as media coverage, the complexity of congressional investigations, and the presence of major domestic issues/scandals in defining the exposure effect of covert actions.

In addition, my case studies have shown that the regime type of the target seems to matter. As Senator Church emphasized, "the nature and extent of the American role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Chilean government are matters of deep and continuing public concern" (U.S. For its part, the Nicaraguan case was prominent in a sense that it involves a deal with Iran, which as one of the biggest U.S.

In addition to the aforementioned factors such as media coverage, the complexity of congressional investigations and. In this sense, further in-depth case studies and data collection must be done to identify the full range of factors influencing the exposure effect and its potential impact on a U.S.

The List of U.S. Covert Actions during the Cold War Period, 1949-1989

Relations between Mass Media, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Towards a Theoretical Synthesis. Annual Review of Political Science 11: 39-65. White House Crisis: New Poll Shows 47% Stand First Reagan Is Lying.” New York Times, December 10. Economic and political tension and the United Nations Charter. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

War and the Survival of Political Leaders: A Comparative Study of Regime Types and Political Responsibility.” American Political Science Review. The Election: Voters Delay Republican Hopes for Domination in the Post-Reagan Era.” New York Times, November 10. Iran-Contra Hearings: North Contradicts Testimony of Others on Contra Aid Efforts.” New York Times, July 9.

Foreign Policy Powers of the President and Congress." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. How ad hoc theorizing, misemphasis, and insufficient care in measuring one's variables overruled common sense and led conventional wisdom down the path of anomalies." American Political Science Review. U.S. Covert Action in Indonesia in the 1960s : Assessing Motives and Consequences.Journal of International and Area Studies.

Of Arms and the Man: The Iran-Contra Affair as 'Verteenwoordigende Anekdote.'" Australasian Journal of American Studies.


Table 1. The U.S. Cases of Covert Actions, 1949-1986* CountryExposure President Initiator Covert actioninitiated (year) Polity2  score before covert action [year]
Table 2.  Exposed/Unexposed U.S. Covert Actions
Table 3. Democratic/Non-democratic Target States
Figure 1. Presidential Job Approval Rating of Richard Nixon, 1969-1974.

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