Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions

Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions

by Elizabeth N. Saunders
     
 

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One of the most contentious issues in contemporary foreign policy-especially in the United States-is the use of military force to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states. Some military interventions explicitly try to transform the domestic institutions of the states they target; others do not, instead attempting only to reverse foreign policies or resolve

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Overview

One of the most contentious issues in contemporary foreign policy-especially in the United States-is the use of military force to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states. Some military interventions explicitly try to transform the domestic institutions of the states they target; others do not, instead attempting only to reverse foreign policies or resolve disputes without trying to reshape the internal landscape of the target state. In Leaders at War, Elizabeth N. Saunders provides a framework for understanding when and why great powers seek to transform foreign institutions and societies through military interventions. She highlights a crucial but often-overlooked factor in international relations: the role of individual leaders.

Saunders argues that leaders' threat perceptions-specifically, whether they believe that threats ultimately originate from the internal characteristics of other states-influence both the decision to intervene and the choice of intervention strategy. These perceptions affect the degree to which leaders use intervention to remake the domestic institutions of target states. Using archival and historical sources, Saunders concentrates on U.S. military interventions during the Cold War, focusing on the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. After demonstrating the importance of leaders in this period, she also explores the theory's applicability to other historical and contemporary settings including the post-Cold War period and the war in Iraq.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Saunders's work is readable and accessible, and should be of great interest to anyone who cares about presidential leadership and the use of military force . . . she makes a convincing case for the importance of the individual in these critical decisions, especially the need to calibrate ends and means. Her observation that presidents appear to be slow learners should be a sobering assessment for the concerned citizen."—David A. Crockett, Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2012)

"Elizabeth N. Saunders asks the important questions of why great powers intervene in other countries and why that intervention sometimes aims to replace leaders, restructure institutions, and transform societies. Her answer focuses on the distinctive role of individual leaders and their causal beliefs about the origins of threats. Leaders at War adds much to our understanding of the history of American foreign policy during the Cold War and the role of individual leaders in foreign security policy and international conflict. It belongs on the shelf of every serious scholar interested in these central questions of theory, history, and policy."—Jack S. Levy, Rutgers University

"Structuralists take note: With an admirably simple theory, sound case selection, meticulous process tracing, and judicious treatment of alternative explanations, Elizabeth N. Saunders makes what may be the strongest case to date that individual leaders really do affect international relations in predictable ways. The implications extend far beyond the academy—to the White House and indeed the voting booth."—John Owen, University of Virginia, author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics

"Leaders at War is a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich analysis of the role presidents play in the decision to intervene. Elizabeth N. Saunders helps us understand the implications of transformative and nontransformative strategies as well as the important implications for contemporary policy debates. Leaders at War will be required reading for my students and is sure to emerge at the very top of the list of books advancing our understanding of the links between leadership, beliefs, and external factors that make some interventions more successful than others."—Larry Berman, University of California, Davis

"Elizabeth N. Saunders has written a terrific book. Closely examining Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, she asks a simple yet bedeviling question: Why do the leaders of a great power such as the United States choose to intervene militarily in the affairs of another state? Her answers are sophisticated, incisive, multitextured, well informed, and compelling. Leaders at War is important political science and it is important history. Not only students of the Cold War will want to read it."—Richard H. Immerman, Professor and Edward J. Buthusiem Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in History and Marvin Wachman Director, Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy, Temple University

"Leaders at War is timely and compelling. Using archival and other documentary evidence, Elizabeth N. Saunders presents a lucid and persuasive case for the importance of individual presidents in the U.S. government's frequent resort to military intervention in the post-1945 era. Leaders' interpretations of threats, she shows convincingly, have had extraordinary implications for the decision to use force—and, one can surmise, will continue to do so."—Fredrik Logevall, Cornell University

"In this fascinating book, Elizabeth N. Saunders offers new insight on matters of momentous contemporary importance. But she does so with remarkable sensitivity to the complexities of the historical record, showing how past U.S. presidents have gone about intervening overseas. As convincing as it is deftly written and deeply researched, Leaders at War deserves the careful attention of anyone interested in understanding how the United States uses its power abroad."—Mark Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin, author of The Vietnam War: A Concise International History

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801461477
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
02/03/2011
Series:
Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
691 KB

Meet the Author

Elizabeth N. Saunders is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

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