The Polythink Syndrome
U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions on 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and ISIS
Alex Mintz and Carly Wayne


Contents and Abstracts
1 The Polythink Syndrome
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we introduce the Polythink phenomenon, using the contrasting examples of Pearl Harbor and September 11 to demonstrate the critical effect that group dynamics can have on national security policy. We explain how Polythink is essentially the opposite of Groupthink on a continuum of decision making from "completely cohesive" (Groupthink) to "completely fragmented" (Polythink). We introduce the main symptoms and causes of Polythink and outline the organization of the book.

2 Causes, Symptoms, and Consequences of Polythink
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we outline the main symptoms, causes, and consequences of the Polythink phenomenon. We also introduce key explanations and predictors of Polythink. We then show how analysts can assess whether Polythink or Groupthink exists in a group. Finally, we compare the Polythink dynamic with the Groupthink dynamic and with a dynamic we call Con-Div, the middle point between these two extremes.

3 Polythink in National Security: The 9/11 Attacks
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an in-depth review of the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks, analyzing the decision-making processes of key diplomatic and security decision-making groups, including the CIA, the Presidential Cabinet or advisory team, the State Department, and more, to assess the key signs and symptoms of Polythink that were present in the decision-making processes of these groups and ultimately contributed to the failure to prevent this staggering attack.

4 Polythink and Afghanistan War Decisions: War Initiation and Termination
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we analyze the group dynamics in the Bush and Obama Administrations that fundamentally shaped and guided their policy decisions regarding the entrance to and exit from the Afghanistan War. While the initial invasion period was characterized by a deeply ingrained Groupthink mentality that had been shaped by the traumatic and devastating September 11 attacks, the decision to withdraw from the war was fraught with internal divisions and discordant worldviews of the national security policy-making complex—a Polythink process that deeply inhibited the development of a cohesive strategy for the successful conclusion of the war.

5 Decision Making in the Iraq War: From Groupthink to Polythink
chapter abstract

In this chapter we continue our analysis of the detrimental effects of flawed group decision-making processes surrounding decisions of war and peace. Specifically, using the Iraq War as a case study, we analyze the implications of Groupthink and Polythink on decisions made by the U.S. government in this controversial theater. Breaking down the group dynamics in the Bush and Obama Administrations, we demonstrate the effects of the decision-unit group dynamic on the decisions to initiate the war, adopt the Surge, and ultimately, withdraw from Iraq.

6 Polythink in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute: Decisions of the U.S. and Israel
chapter abstract

This chapter expands the range of national security decisions that can be affected by Polythink, examining the impact of Polythink on diplomacy, strategy, and negotiations. Specifically, we will assess the Obama Administration's 2009 Iran Policy Review concerning the Iranian nuclear program, and Israel's 2012 decision not to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The chapter begins with the U.S. Administration's decision-making dynamic in addressing the Iranian threat during President Obama's first two years in office, specifically focusing on Obama's 2009 Iran Policy Review. In the second section, we analyze the decision-making processes that occurred in the Israeli government regarding the Iranian nuclear program in early 2012 as the government weighed a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Interestingly, we find that in the Israeli case, the Polythink dynamic was mainly triggered by disagreement among three sub-decision-making groups: Israeli political leaders, the Israeli military establishment, and the U.S. Administration.

7 Recent Challenges: The Syria Debate, the Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, and the ISIS Decision
chapter abstract

This chapter provides three examples of the application of Polythink to recent decisions and events in the international arena. Specifically, we analyze three recent developments in the Middle East: the tragedy in Syria and the UN and U.S. 2012 debate over sanctions against the Assad regime, the 2013<->14 peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians known as the "Kerry Process," and the summer 2014 U.S. decision to attack ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. These three cases demonstrate the global nature of Polythink and its relevance and applicability to U.S. and UN decisions (i.e., with multiple players), to negotiation processes (decisions in strategic interaction) and to tactical versus strategic decisions (as in the ISIS decision). We discuss the deliberate decision-unit architecture of Obama's second-term advisory team, establishing the critical importance a leader plays in influencing whether the unit will have a Groupthink, Con-Div, or Polythink group dynamic.

8 The Global Nature of Polythink and Its Productive Potential
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we discuss the implications of Polythink, Con-Div, and Groupthink beyond the realm of foreign policy, extending it to business decisions, research and development (R&D) decisions, marketing and sales decisions, production chain decisions, finance and budgeting decisions, domestic policymaking, voluntary and not-for-profit decisions, and small-group decisions in individuals' daily lives. We also detail strategies for transforming Destructive Polythink into Productive Polythink, such as engineering the decision unit to ensure a more balanced evaluation of policy alternatives en route to "good" decisions. Understanding these dynamics is crucial to explaining, predicting, and improving national security and foreign policy decisions, business and corporate decisions, and individual decisions.