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Steve Yetiv



National Security through a Cockeyed Lens: How Cognitive Bias Impacts U.S. Foreign Policy (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2013).

book cover"How do mental errors or cognitive biases undermine good decision making?" This is the question Steve A. Yetiv takes up in his latest foreign policy study, National Security through a Cockeyed Lens.

Yetiv draws on four decades of psychological, historical, and political science research on cognitive biases to illuminate some of the key pitfalls in our leaders' decision-making processes and some of the mental errors we make in perceiving ourselves and the world.

Tracing five U.S. national security episodes-the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan; the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration; the rise of al-Qaeda, leading to the 9/11 attacks; the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq; and the development of U.S. energy policy-Yetiv reveals how a dozen cognitive biases have been more influential in impacting U.S. national security than commonly believed or understood.

Identifying a primary bias in each episode-disconnect of perception versus reality, tunnel vision ("focus feature"), distorted perception ("cockeyed lens"), overconfidence, and short-term thinking-Yetiv explains how each bias drove the decision-making process and what the outcomes were for the various actors. His concluding chapter examines a range of debiasing techniques, exploring how they can improve decision making.

"Steve Yetiv is an expert in American foreign policy, security studies, and interdisciplinary approaches toward international politics. He is the ideal person to write this particular book, which applies political psychology to the study of decision processes."-Patrick James, University of Southern California

"Anyone who has been involved with policy making and execution-whether as a senior decision maker or as a government or non-government expert advisor-has experienced many of the cognitive biases and the personal and organizational dynamics discussed in Steve Yetiv's book. But no one that I know has so perceptively captured these issues in one concise, clearly laid out, and cogently argued volume. There are many times I wish I had had a book like this to wave around and point to, or quietly place in front of people to suggest they pause and think about their thinking, and I am sure that in the future I will use it as a reference."-Frédéric Ruiz-Ramón, Perscitus International LLC; Former High-Level US Department of Defense Decision Maker

"How do leaders make decisions, and why do they often make such bad ones at critical times? In his fascinating new book, Steve Yetiv examines this critical question. Drawing on decades of psychological, historical, and political science research, Yetiv demonstrates how cognitive biases have undermined good decision making in key cases involving U.S. national security, often with very costly results. Yetiv's analysis and recommendations deserve a wide hearing among policy makers, academics, and laypeople alike."-Mark L. Haas, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh

This provides an American foreign policy expert's survey of security studies and new methods of analyzing and understanding international politics. Highly recommended for any college-level political science collection!
(Midwest Book Review)

National Security through a Cockeyed Lens is an interesting read for anyone seeking to understand how seemingly poor decisions can be made at critical junctures.
(Middle East Journal)

National Security through a Cockeyed Lens serves as a seminal work, instructive for scholars and decision makers alike... Yetiv's volume could be one of the key books for presidents and their advisers to read before they begin making decisions...
(William W. Newmann H-Diplo)

Steve A. Yetiv is a professor of political science at Old Dominion University and author of The Absence of Grand Strategy: The United States in the Persian Gulf, 1972-2005 and Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision-Making in the Gulf Wars, both published by Johns Hopkins.

November, Political Science
6 x 9 x .45, 168 pp.
$24.95/ 16.00 pb
Available as an e-book 

Contact Information

Email Steve Yetiv

Office: 757.683.3859

Curriculum Vitae


New Book: Myths of the Oil Boom

Steve Yetiv's Page on Amazon

National Security through a Cockeyed Lens

The Petroleum Triangle

The Absence of Grand Strategy

Explaining Foreign Policy

Crude Awakenings

America and the Persian Gulf

MESH at Harvard


Student Comments

Course Adoptions

Honors and Recognition

Winner of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award

VA Outstanding Faculty Award Nomination Package


Media Work

Recent op-eds

NYT Piece Goes VIRAL

ODU PR Campaign