Art of Political Warfare

Art of Political Warfare

by John J. Pitney

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The Art of Political Warfare highlights the striking similarities between politics and war. Applying military thought to domestic politics, John J. Pitney, Jr., persuasively argues that the language of war teaches us about political activity. Combining lively storytelling with solid scholarship, he ranges across history to produce a unique field manual for


The Art of Political Warfare highlights the striking similarities between politics and war. Applying military thought to domestic politics, John J. Pitney, Jr., persuasively argues that the language of war teaches us about political activity. Combining lively storytelling with solid scholarship, he ranges across history to produce a unique field manual for politics.

Pitney discusses how military principles can explain victory or defeat in politics, whether for an election campaign or a legislative blitz. Each chapter takes a single concept from the military-strategy, leadership, training, intelligence, deception, logistics, friction, and family-and applies it to political concerns ranging from campaign warchests to legislative tactics.

This original book will appear to campaign operatives, armchair political strategists, and students of political science. In this presidential election year, The Art of Political Warfare is necessary reading for people fighting in the political trenches or for those who simply want an engrossing view of the battlefield.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Politics," writes Pitney (professor of government McKenna College), "resembles warfare"--therefore "military literature can teach us something about politics." Observing that politicians consciously embrace warlike language and strategies, and that warfare is often used as a metaphor to help explain political activity, and that Pitney, a former researcher for the Republican National Committee, offers a close analysis of this connection. Weaving together quotes from military strategists and political theorists (like Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli) with commentary by recent and not-so-recent political figures (like Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton), Pitney offers insight and advice for campaigners and political junkies alike. More scholarly than practical, however, Pitney delves deepest into the military metaphor in American politics, dividing his discussion into military-themed sections such as strategy, "rallying the troops," and intelligence. He compares how each of his many terms is applied in both a military and a political context. His analysis includes often engaging anecdotes of political skirmishes and victories. For instance, he relates community organizer Saul Alinsky's triumph over the Chicago city government's recalcitrance about keeping a promise made to a ghetto organization: Alinsky threatened to organize an occupation of all the toilets at O'Hare airport, and the city capitulated. But along the way, Pitney overwhelms the reader with examples. His arguments are unlikely to change the nature of political science, or to encourage scholars to break away from more traditional economic models in their work; but it's entertaining to watch him try. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz stated that war was the continuation of politics by different means. Pitney (government, McKenna Coll.; Permanent Minority? Republicans in the U.S. House) opens this new work with a similar premise, stating that "politics resembles warfare, so military literature can teach us something about politics." Drawing from von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower, and contemporary American military publications, the author applies military doctrines to contemporary politics. The book's ten chapters cover a range of topics, from strategy and leadership to morality, intelligence, and deception. Pitney draws clear examples for his arguments from the works and actions of such modern political players as Lee Atwater, James Carville, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton. This concise and well-argued work takes an interesting approach to examining political activity and is recommended for larger public and academic libraries.--Stephen L. Hupp, Urbana Univ., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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University of Oklahoma Press
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


We had to be battle ready just to be in the game—to break down the bureaucracy and replace campaigning by conference call with a single strategic center for attacks and counterattacks. Hillary got it immediately. "What you're describing is a war room," she said, giving us both a name and an attitude.

—George Stephanopoulos All Too Human: A Political Education

          This book develops a simple idea: politics resembles warfare, so military literature can teach us something about political action. This notion hardly means that politics is identical to war or that every activity in one field has a counterpart in the other. (There is no political equivalent to, say, rifle-cleaning.) Rather, it suggests rough similarities between the ways people organize to wage war and the ways they organize to win votes or to enact public policies. Thinking about the former can inspire insights about the latter.

    We all assume this link whenever we use military metaphors. Lawmakers try to be good soldiers, except when Young Turks break ranks and overthrow the Old Guard. Some standard-bearers let their lieutenants serve as their hatchet men, whereas others lead the charge. Candidates on the defensive may adopt a bunker mentality. Politicians gather ammunition, mobilize troops, mount attacks, launch blitzes, take hits, return fire, and beat retreats. Search for the word "battle" in an electronic card catalog and you find The American PartyBattle, The Battle for Democracy, Battle for Justice, The Battle for Municipal Reform, The Battle for Public Opinion, and Order of Battle: A Republican's Call to Reason, among many others.

    Yet none of these books has systematically applied military concepts to domestic American politics. This omission is striking. When a metaphor remains in common use for a long time, we can guess that it has a basis in experience, and so it is with military metaphors, whose frequency suggests many likenesses between politics and war. Consider a common emotion among politicians, namely, the feeling of "embattlement." In their classic work on metaphors, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson say that this sense comes from seeing yourself in a warlike situation in which you view other participants as adversaries and attack their position while defending your own: "Your perceptions and actions correspond in part to the perceptions and actions of a party engaged in war."

    While metaphors are expressing our thought, they are shaping it, too. When campaign volunteers hear their leaders talk about battling the enemy; they regard themselves as combatants, often unconsciously. In this sense, we live by military metaphors, for they structure many of the things we do. Politics is like war, so people use military metaphors, which in turn make politics more warlike. Which has a stronger effect on the other: words or actions? Is it more a matter of military metaphors driving political behavior, or of politics naturally giving rise to military language? These are good questions—for another book. This one avoids such chicken-and-egg riddles. For now, it is enough to establish that political people speak in military terms and act in ways that military concepts can explain.

    In what specific ways do the two realms correspond?

Both are organized struggles between opposing human wills: Most definitions of politics include the word "conflict," which connotes antagonism and combat. People enlist in politics so they can work their will over others, an activity that they call "fighting," though it seldom involves violence. President Clinton once told residents of a Chicago housing project that their spirit inspired him to battle: "And I will take that back to Washington when we fight for the crime bill, when we fight to reform the welfare system, when we fight for the empowerment zones to get investment and jobs into these communities, when we fight to give you a chance."

Both reach far and high: Politics and war recruit masses of people in an effort to settle vital issues. After the 1860 election, Southerners saw Lincoln's victory as so ominous that they traded in their metaphorical armaments for real ones. Not all elections (or wars) are so decisive, but politicians portray the stakes as critical in order to keep up mass enthusiasm. Like generals, political leaders often cast their efforts as "crusades." In 1948, Harry Truman told Democrats that "we are now engaged in one of the most important battles in our history. It is a crusade for the right, a crusade for the people against the special interests. I want you to join me in this crusade."

Both arouse deep passions, especially hostility: It is not quite enough to invoke the Lord: one must also rally the troops against the Devil, whether in the shape of Saddam Hussein or of an opposing candidate. At the end of the novel Primary Colors, an insider story of presidential politics, the Clintonesque presidential contender tells the narrator: "Henry, you're a warrior, and we were at war—and you wanted to kill that pious [expletive deleted], just like I did."

Both expose participants to peril and uncertainty: Despite the occasional assassination attempt, politicians seldom worry about violent death. They do, however, face the risk of a soiled reputation and humiliating defeat. According to Winston Churchill, "Politics are almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous. In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics many times." Clinton aide Leon Panetta described his own post "as a battlefield job, because you essentially set what you want to do in terms of how you'd like the battle to go, but you also wind up having land mines and mortars coming in and exploding around you." (Panetta's title was Chief of Staff, a term from the U.S. Army.)

Both require elaborate strategies and tactics: Warriors and political activists seek intelligence about their opponents' strengths and aims, just as they try to thwart their foes' efforts to do the same. They also motivate their subordinates and outmaneuver the opposition. And they must adapt each battle plan to conditions at hand. In 1972, Gary Hart ran George McGovern's presidential campaign and had to take different approaches to the primaries and the fall election: "The nomination campaign for us was guerrilla warfare—scattered, ragtag troops, minutemen, roving bands of citizen volunteers, the people of Russia plaguing and harassing Napoleon's elite corps. The general election campaign was heavy artillery, panzer divisions, massive clanking movements of cumbersome weapons, mechanized, unwieldy warfare."


Military concepts are inescapable precisely because many basic political terms began their careers in uniform. "Strategy" comes from the Greek strategia, meaning "generalship." "Campaign," from the Latin campus ("field"), started as a military term for an organized struggle taking place over a distinct period and aiming at a definite result. "Slogan" derives from the Scottish Gaelic sluagh ("army") and ghairm ("cry").

    It is hard to think of any time when military ideas have not pervaded politics or to name any group of Americans who have not used them. In 1809, a North Carolina state legislator wrote about electioneering with his running mate: "Col. Bodinhamer & myself have been under a forced march since Sunday last—We have left none of the enemies [sic] ground in this quarter unexplored—and I think have succeeded in blowing up most of their strong places." In 1840, young Abraham Lincoln looked ahead to the next presidential campaign: "We have the numbers, and if properly organized and exerted, with the gallant [William Henry] Harrison at our head, we shall meet our foes and conquer them in all parts of the Union."

    As the country grew, politics required an ever more rigorous approach. The Army supplied a handy model. After the Civil War, Union and Confederate veterans ran party organizations along military lines, complete with uniformed marching companies. By the turn of the century, the uniforms and other martial trappings had faded from view, but military patterns still proved useful. In 1896, when Mark Hanna took charge of the GOP presidential campaign, Republican elder statesman John Hay marveled: "He is a born general in politics, perfectly square, honest, and courageous, with a coup d'oeil for the battle-field and a knowledge of the enemy's weak points which is very remarkable." Author Matthew Josephson later wrote: "Hanna set up a complete machinery for modern political warfare. The Republican National Committee, which he headed ... became the general staff of the whole army."

    Franklin Roosevelt, who had served as assistant secretary of the Navy, embodied this military spirit. Like so many reformers, he saw warfare as a template for effective government power. World War I made a mark on many New Deal laws and agencies, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, which mirrored the American Expeditionary Force. FDR'S "Hundred Days" program took its name from the period in 1815 between Napoleon's arrival in Paris and the restoration of King Louis XVIII after Waterloo. Before and after the Hundred Days, FDR spoke of war against the Depression. In his first Inaugural Address, he told Americans that they "must move as a trained and loyal army." He later attacked conservative "Copperheads" for hindering his crusade: "It was the Copperheads who, in the days of the Civil War, the War between the States, tried their best to make President Lincoln and his Congress give up the fight in the middle of the fight, to let the Nation remain split in two and return to peace—yes, peace at any price."

    World War II and the Cold War fortified Americans' tendency to think of politics as a military exercise. Just as FDR had called Americans to arms against the Depression, so politicians of later decades declared war on poverty, crime, cancer, drugs, and AIDS. This mindset lingered even after the Soviet Union's demise. The first post-Cold War president, Bill Clinton, named a former general to head the "drug war."

    As a candidate, Clinton took political battle to new levels of expertise. In the spring of 1992, the Clinton campaign undertook "the Manhattan Project," an effort to address his vulnerabilities. In the fall, his aide James Carville set up a "war room" to issue attacks and counterattacks. As reporter Michael Kelly wrote, pacifists would have shuddered at its language: "Describing the campaign's reaction to an attack by President Bush on Mr. Clinton's health care proposals, Mr. Carville estimates the level of response in Pentagon jargon as `Defcon-5; or highest alert." The Clinton crew remained on a war footing after the election. Room 433 of the Old Executive Office Building, where staff plotted strategy for ethics problems, acquired a telling nickname: "the Arsenal of Democracy."

    Betsey Wright, who fought off rumors about Clinton's character, was "the Secretary of Defense." Like Wright, more and more women are rising through the ranks—and they, too, speak of politics as war. In her memoir of the 1992 campaign, Bush aide Mary Matalin chose as her epigraph a Vietnamese battle cry: "Follow me if I advance. Kill me if I retreat. Avenge me if I die." When Celia Morris wrote the story of the 1990 gubernatorial campaigns of Dianne Feinstein of California and Ann Richards of Texas, she called it Storming the Statehouse. EMILY's List, a committee for pro-choice Democratic women, offers such services as "targeting and candidate recruitment," "strategic research," and "ongoing tactical support." By following its advice, says its website, women "take command of the political environment" and "fight back against a negative attack."

    Military metaphors cross partisan and ideological boundaries. Pat Buchanan added a rare lively moment to the 1996 campaign when he told supporters: "Do not wait for orders from headquarters, mount up everybody and ride to the sound of the guns." At the other end of the spectrum, German political sociologist Robert Michels observed in 1915: "There is hardly one expression of military tactics and strategy, hardly even a phrase of barracks slang, which does not recur again and again in the leading articles of the socialist press."

    The military model prevails even among those who oppose war. During the 1960s, no one thought it odd to talk about "anti-war militants." In 1972, George McGovern waged the most pacifist major-party presidential campaign in history. In a book dedicated to "the McGovern Army," campaign manager Gary Hart wrote that similar efforts had "relied heavily on the classic insurgency technique of rousing the countryside—the volunteers—to beat the entrenched powers. Like most political techniques, this one is based on military principles; it is New England citizens with pitchforks and muskets against George III's troops."


If Hart is right, then students of practical politics should learn about war. Scholars disagree about whether war sprang from natural aggressiveness, a genetic instinct for hunting, or a prehistoric need to defend against predators. No matter which theory proves correct, the subject matter is ancient—and so is its literature. The Iliad described the archetype of combat deceptions, the Trojan Horse. Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War provided a panoramic view of a catastrophic conflict, and Xenophon's The Education of Cyrus analyzed military leadership. During the same period, several centuries before Christ, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, which remains in the curricula of the world's military schools.

    Like Sun Tzu, Machiavelli wrote a book entitled The Art of War, and in his better-known works, The Prince and The Discourses, he interwove discussions of statesmanship with practical advice about combat. Carl von Clausewitz's On War took on scriptural status in European armies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in the post-Vietnam era it has influenced American military leaders, most notably Colin Powell.

    Today's military publishes a huge amount of rigorous analysis, both in manuals and in periodicals such as Parameters. This literature covers a broad range of topics and draws upon many disciplines. Its breadth and depth should not surprise anyone, since the military stresses education: two-thirds of Army officers have advanced degrees, including many doctorates. "There is more interest in learning in the military than in most organizations I've seen," says business consultant Margaret Wheatley. "Generals take time to think."

    Believing that thousands of years of thought and battle must hold some lessons about human conflict, certain politicians and operatives have applied this body of literature to their own work. In a 1984 memo to the Walter Mondale presidential campaign, Democratic strategist Patrick Caddell quoted military writers from Sun Tzu to British theorist B. H. Liddell Hart. Caddell argued that the Mondale campaign would fail if it mounted a "frontal assault on Reagan" and followed the "trench tactics" that it favored: "What is needed is a strategy that reflects the doctrine of indirect approach. One that can exploit the numerous weak points of the Reagan position and finds the best grounds for forcing the position of the issue. [Mondale needs a strategy that] avoids and isolates Reagan's Maginot Line—his personality and leadership strengths."

    In planning for the first debate with Reagan, Mondale followed this advice while his aides mounted an elaborate "pantomime of deception" to mislead the press and the Reagan camp into expecting a frontal assault. His indirect approach addled an already shaky Reagan, who botched the encounter. Although Reagan had daunting advantages, Mondale's debate victory narrowed the gap, at least for a while.

    About the time that Caddell was writing his Mondale memo, a junior House Republican named Newt Gingrich was telling his staff to study Japanese samurai and World War II battle strategists, in hopes that they would learn about speed and maneuvering. Gingrich had a Ph.D. in contemporary European history and frequently lectured at the war colleges. Just before he became Speaker of the House in 1995, he explained: "Politics and war are remarkably similar systems." A few months later he put it more boldly, paraphrasing Mao Zedong: "War is politics with blood; politics is war without blood."

    At Gingrich's direction, members of the House Republican leadership and their aides studied planning and training methods at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) centers. "Almost every major thing I have done for over a decade has been directly shaped by TRADOC," Gingrich said. A lieutenant colonel on a fellowship helped the GOP leadership run "after-action reviews" to identify lessons from legislative battles.

    Gingrich's early successes made an impression on his opponents. Shortly after the new Speaker took the gavel, a Democratic political consultant wrote: "We need to follow the advice of jungle fighters, follow the example of the greatest light cavalry the world has ever seen (the Apaches), and read the teachings of Sun Tzu. When they expect retreat, attack; when they expect attack, retreat; when they rest, we move."

    Among recent American political figures, the most devoted student of Sun Tzu was Lee Atwater, who managed George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign and chaired the Republican National Committee until 1991, when he died of a brain tumor at the age of forty. The skill and intelligence with which Atwater used military principles are worthy of special attention.


Mourners who attended Atwater's memorial service found something unusual in the program—passages from Sun Tzu: "The Way means inducing the people to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger. Those skilled in defense hide in the deepest depths of the earth, those skilled in attack maneuver in the highest heights of the sky."

    Atwater once explained his affinity for military ideas: "There's a whole set of prescriptions for success that includes such notions as concentration, tactical flexibility, the difference between strategy and tactics, and the idea of command focus." Sun Tzu's The Art of War was his favorite book, which he claimed to have read at least twenty times. "Everything in it you can relate to my profession, you can relate to the campaign," he said. "Every time I read it, I am reminded of something very important." (Atwater had a narrow attention span and a tendency to exaggerate, but in this case he was probably telling the truth. The book is short.)

    Applying Sun Tzu's maxims on deception, Atwater confused opposing campaigns about his intentions—often by exploiting his own reputation for trickiness. The 1988 Bush campaign "would always announce our tactical and strategic decisions way out front because people would figure we were spinning them," he said. "The only way you could turn people off and keep them from following a strategy was to announce it first."

    "Know the enemy and know yourself" was another Sun Tzu dictum that Atwater took to heart. "The only group that I was interested in having report to me," Atwater said, "... was opposition research." Headed by Jim Pinkerton, the research team compiled a huge cache of material, first on Bush's GOP rivals, then on Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. The "excellent nerds," as Atwater called them, were not just looking for hit-piece ammunition but for insight into the other candidates' personalities, working habits, ideologies, and bases of support. At the same time, they also searched Bush's own background for vulnerabilities. The idea was to anticipate the campaign's course, to know where the others could attack and how they would react to the Bush campaign's own moves.

    In the nomination contest, Atwater and his lieutenants recognized that Bush's moderate public record had left him weak on his right flank. To head off conservative attacks, Atwater advised Bush to move rightward on key issues, especially taxes. Meanwhile, the Bush warriors also probed their opponents' soft spots.

    Among other things, they learned much about Bob Dole's thin skin, which enabled them to follow Sun Tzu's counsel about harassing the opposition: "Anger his general and confuse him." The Bush campaign made numerous attacks, peeling off Dole's supporters and tapping into his bile. The payoff came with the New Hampshire primary, where Bush won an upset victory. When NBC reporter Tom Brokaw asked Dole if he had anything to say to the winner, Dole snapped: "Stop lying about my record." Those five words, which the networks repeated over and over, renewed doubts about **Dole's temperament and helped scuttle his campaign.

    Sun Tzu reminded Atwater of the importance of taking the initiative: "Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene and rushes into the fight is weary." Atwater worked earlier than any of his counterparts to set up organizations in key primary states. Bush could thus recover from a loss in the Iowa caucuses, whereas the underprepared Dole had no way to regain momentum after New Hampshire.

    In the fall campaign, the Bush camp defined the issue agenda before Dukakis could, stressing Republican strengths and Democratic weaknesses. Dukakis got stuck answering Bush attacks, usually too late. Bush's travels also caught Dukakis off guard. "Appear at places to which he [the opponent] must hasten," Sun Tzu taught; "move swiftly where he does not expect you." Atwater read this passage literally, and he had Bush appear in Dukakis's home state to take a boat ride in polluted Boston Harbor and accept the endorsement of a Boston police union. These "sneak attacks" forced Dukakis to spend scarce resources to defend his home ground and highlighted issues that hurt him.

    Atwater sought to divide the other side. The commentator Chang Yu elaborated on Sun Tzu's advice: "Sometimes drive a wedge between a sovereign and his ministers; on other occasions separate his allies from him. Make them mutually suspicious so that they drift apart. Then you can plot against them." In the 1988 campaign, "wedge issues" such as Massachusetts's furlough program enabled the Bush campaign to split conservative Southerners and anti-crime Northerners off from the Democratic Party's base of liberals and minorities. Democrats later charged that the GOP's wedge issues deepened racial divisions, while Republicans answered that they were legitimate policy arguments.

    After taking the helm of the Republican National Committee, Atwater stepped up his effort to split the Democratic Party, this time by encouraging its elected officials to switch to the GOP. He advised the administration to guard its "fortress" of low taxes so that it could advance an innovative domestic agenda: "As long as we hold the high ground, we can maneuver on this other stuff." Bush, however, turned his administration into a target-rich environment by breaking the no-new-taxes promise and slighting domestic policy. In political terms, the administration neglected what Clausewitz called "moral elements," including what we now call "morale." By 1992, Republicans had read Bush's lips and lost their heart. His campaign proved indecisive, thus illustrating another observation from Clausewitz: "Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage in war than audacity."


Much of the political community has never heard of Sun Tzu or Carl von Clausewitz: mention such names at a local precinct meeting, and people will assume that you are recommending ethnic restaurants. Nevertheless, the Atwaters and Caddells are unusual only in the degree to which they explicitly cite military classics. As we have already seen, nearly everyone else in politics is implicitly thinking and acting along these lines.

    Many observations from military literature should ring true to those who study and practice politics. This literature has much to offer on strategy and leadership—that is, laying out an overall plan for victory and getting people behind it. Followers require coordination, and military writings can help us understand how leaders achieve it. The idea of psychological warfare has clear political applications, in the sense of maintaining clear heads and stout hearts among one's friends while confusing and misleading one's enemies. Intelligence is a constant concern of political figures because they need an accurate picture of the opposition's strengths and weaknesses. In politics as in war, one must keep an eye on the mundane but essential matters of geography and logistics. No matter how carefully military or political leaders plan ahead, they will struggle with friction, the countless glitches that hinder effective action and spawn future conflicts.

    This book analyzes these ideas. Note that its title is not "Twelve Easy Steps to Winning Political Wars." As columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote, the secrets-to-victory approach dissolves into the "intentionally Delphic and blindingly obvious advice for which modern political consultants get paid tons of money." Chance, circumstance, and natural talent all shape the fate of warriors and politicians alike, so this book can no more guarantee political success than The Art of War can guarantee military victory. (Among Sun Tzu's most avid students was William Westmoreland, who led American troops in Vietnam.)

    The goal here is more modest. By applying military ideas, we can better understand aspects of politics that would otherwise remain obscure. Politicians and bureaucrats already know many of these things in their bones: this book aims to put some of this knowledge on the printed page. Its approach may bother certain readers, so it is wise to address possible objections. Perhaps the most obvious is that a simpleminded application of military thought might make politics meaner than it already is, encouraging staffers and politicians to embark on take-no-prisoners jihads. In an address at the Air Force Academy, James F. Childress warned that "we will both trivialize real wars, and exaggerate other conflicts and problems our society faces, by our reckless and irresponsible use of the war metaphor."

    This warning deserves attention because we should avoid confusing analytic tools with literal descriptions. To say that politics resembles war in certain ways is not to imply that every political figure should always act like Patton. If anything, however, this form of analysis will make us more aware of the implications of our political language. It is better to be conscious of military images than to use them without reflecting on their origins and meaning. Seeing both their uses and limitations, we can put them to work for constructive purposes. That way, we become the masters of military metaphors rather than their servants.

    Objecting to military metaphors can lead to ironies, since one can scarcely avoid them. When Gingrich became Speaker and tried to moderate his style, congressional Democrats remembered his earlier words and deeds. "In previous years he was following the Vietnam `burn the village in order to save it' strategy, or calling in the artillery even if you took out some of your own people," one Democrat told reporter Elizabeth Drew. "The military metaphors come easily about him. There's something sociopathic." Twenty pages later, she quoted another House Democrat on Gingrich: "Going after him is like trying to take out command and control."

    A second objection is that the precision and order of military operations cannot supply a model for the messy world of politics. True, politics is chaotic—but so is war. According to the official doctrine of the Marine Corps, "Disorder is an integral characteristic of war; we can never eliminate it. In the heat of battle, plans will go awry, instructions and information will be unclear and misinterpreted, communications will fail, and mistakes and unforeseen events will be commonplace." A year after Desert Storm, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf mocked those who describe military operations as a form of precision dancing. "What I always say to those folks is, `Yes, it's choreographed, and what happens is the orchestra starts playing and some son of a bitch climbs out of the orchestra pit with a bayonet and starts chasing you around the stage.' And the choreography goes right out the window."

    A third objection is that metaphor is just a gimmick, not a substantial means of serious political analysis. On the contrary, most political writing hinges on metaphors. Especially in academia, writers have relied heavily on the market metaphor, picturing the political world as a place where people dicker, barter, buy and sell. One reason this metaphor is so popular is that politics really does involve money. "I see the White House is like a subway," said one Clinton fundraiser. "You have to put in coins to open the gates." Political scientists also like the market metaphor because it has enabled them to borrow concepts and methods from economics, a discipline that they envy for its rigor.

    Other metaphors have appeared in political writing. Using his imagination and drawing on anthropology, one writer described Congress as a set of tribes. Another pictured politics as ritual, consisting of spectacles that elicit specific responses from their audiences. And of course sports terms abound, though one scholar offered a memorable caveat to the common metaphor of football: "Politics is much more like the original primitive game of football in which everybody was free to join, a game in which the whole population of one town might play the entire population of another town moving freely back and forth across the countryside."

    A fourth objection naturally arises: if politics is like a marketplace, a ritual, or a football game, how can it also be like war? We can answer this question by remembering that all metaphors are like lenses that bring certain things into sharp focus while obscuring others. Putting different lenses on a camera allows us to see things in new and diverse ways. Likewise, different metaphorical lenses enable us to ask different kinds of questions and look for different kinds of evidence.

    Many scholars seem to think that we should look at politics through the market metaphor alone, which is a mistake. This metaphor does a fine job of clarifying aspects of politics that involve self-interested motives, large numbers, and easily measured elements. Alas, it tends to miss such hard-to-quantify phenomena such as duty, courage, and passion. In the same vein, its emphasis on bargaining has merit but slights the importance of struggle and confrontation. Thus, just as good photographers stock a variety of lenses, so we need a variety of metaphorical tools for analyzing politics. This book develops one such tool. It shows that military metaphors and concepts cast a clear light on things that the customary academic approach would leave in the blurry background. Chapter 10, which should be of particular interest to scholars, develops this discussion and also sketches alternative metaphors.

    The military approach has limits. If war and politics were exactly the same thing, then great generals would automatically make great politicians. The troubled administration of Ulysses S. Grant and the stillborn presidential candidacy of Douglas MacArthur supply evidence to the contrary. Politics is not only about fighting, for it may also involve cooperation, compromise, and deliberation. Accordingly, military concepts work better in some situations than others. It is no accident that Newt Gingrich found his political home in the House of Representatives, where procedures foster tough, combative politics. Although there is conflict aplenty in the Senate, the warlike aspects of politics are more muted on that side of the Capitol. In a compact body in which every member has considerable power, there are practical limits on how intensely senators can fight their political adversaries.

    These objections and limitations aside, we can discover a great deal about politics by raiding the military's intellectual armory. This body of thought is not entirely uniform either in quality or in the substance of argument, but on many general points there is a broad consensus, and one that has faced the most rigorous test of all: life or death on the battlefield. Warriors have learned a lot because they have had to.

    Finally, there is one more reason to explore the military analysis of politics: the topic is engrossing. As James Carville put it, "Anybody who's been on a battlefield, whether it's a real battlefield or a political battlefield, or a game, will know this: There's the smell, the odor, the feel that draws you back after it's done. They say in war it's the smell of cordite, of gunpowder. It stays in the air."

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