Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

Overview

The orthodoxy regarding the relationship between politicians and military leaders in wartime democracies contends that politicians should declare a military operation's objectives and then step aside and leave the business of war to the military. In this timely and controversial examination of civilian-military relations in wartime democracies, Eliot A. Cohen chips away at this time-honored belief with case studies of statesmen who dared to prod, provoke, and even defy their ...

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Overview

The orthodoxy regarding the relationship between politicians and military leaders in wartime democracies contends that politicians should declare a military operation's objectives and then step aside and leave the business of war to the military. In this timely and controversial examination of civilian-military relations in wartime democracies, Eliot A. Cohen chips away at this time-honored belief with case studies of statesmen who dared to prod, provoke, and even defy their military officers to great effect.

Using the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill, and David Ben-Gurion to build his argument, Cohen offers compelling proof that, as Clemenceau put it, “War is too important to leave to the generals.” By examining the shared leadership traits of four politicians who triumphed in extraordinarily varied military campaigns, Cohen argues that active statesmen make the best wartime leaders, pushing their military subordinates to succeed where they might have failed if left to their own devices. Thought provoking and soundly argued, Cohen's Supreme Command is essential reading not only for military and political players but also for informed citizens and anyone interested in leadership.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An excellent, vividly written argument [that] could not have come at a better time. —The Washington Post

“Brilliant. . . . Cohen argues convincingly that all great wartime leaders—Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, Ben Gurion—never left the military to make its own policy, but constantly prodded, challenged, and gave it direction.” —National Review

“A brilliant account of Lincoln, Churchill, Clemenceau and Ben Gurion—how each man handled the military leaders who served him.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating.…Mr. Cohen's point is ultimately not a sentimental but a substantive one.…His elucidation of his theory is organized tightly and rendered crisply.”— The New York Times

“Superb . . . Cohen is persuasive in his argument.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Every so often a book appears just at the moment when it is most needed. . . . Such a book is Supreme Command, a superb study of civilian commanders in chief in times of war by the nation's leading scholar of military-civilian relations.”–The Weekly Standard

“Cohen's well-written, absorbing critique of the normal theory is nothing short of crushing. . . . Invaluable.”–The New Leader

“It is well worth devoting some energy to stamping on the myth that soldiers should be allowed to go about their business without pesky politicians getting in the way, and an important contribution to this demolition job has been made by Eliot Cohen.”–The Economist

Supreme Command is Cohen’s tour de force. . . . An eloquent, eminently approachable argument. . . . Essential reading.”–Choice

Supreme Command will be read as often by the professional military and the civil servants and politicians that employ them as is Samuel Huntington’s The Soldiers and the State and Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, both of which are true classics.”–The Washington Times

“Intrinsically significant to the study of strategy and important on a practical level.”–Booklist

“Important. . . . Many senior politicians now balk at asking tough questions or challenging military judgments even as they set ambitious goals. But Cohen’s logic remains sound, and it would be a shame if it took a calamity, resulting from a combination of military misjudgment and civilian passivity, before it gets a hearing.”–Foreign Affairs

“Cohen, who writes with concision and insight, robustly argues that, far from being incompetent dunderheads, as commonly portrayed, civilian statesmen can be brilliant commanders. . . . Give[s] us much to ponder.”–Washington Monthly

Supreme Command is a must read for the highest civilian and military leadership and should also rank high on military professional reading lists.”–Naval War College Review

“Essential reading for anyone concerned with current United States civil-military relations and national strategy. . . . It is cogent in nearly every detail–and we need all the help it can offer.”–The Journal of Military History

“Cohen’s revisionist thesis is especially timely. . . . [He] is surely right that we need to develop different — more traditional — attitudes and protocols concerning the military-civilian partnership.” –Commentary

“No one is better qualified than Cohen to write about political leadership in wartime. . . . This sustained analysis by a perceptive ‘subordinate’ who is also an outstanding historian should become required reading for statesmen and students alike.”–The National Interest

Publishers Weekly
Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben Gurion what made them great wartime heads of state, according to Eliot A. Gohen (Military Misfortunes), a professor of strategic studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, is that they were able to finesse a relationship with their military leaders that kept the balance of power squarely in (their own) civilian hands. In his lucid study, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, Cohen looks closely at the strategies of the four premiers and addresses broader questions about the tension between politicians and generals in a wartime democracy. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The constant tension between political and military leaders is exacerbated by wartime conditions. The director of strategic studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and author of Military Misfortunes, Cohen examines how four civilian statesmen Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion successfully exercised control over their military services during wars that threatened the very existence of their countries. The challenges and complexities that they faced were immense, and how each leader overcame them is the important issue in this study. Cohen stresses key individual traits (e.g., making tough decisions, not worrying about a general's feelings, being willing to stick it out to the end) rather than the totality of these men's experiences, showing that they took a direct hand in the operations of their country's armed forces. Cohen thus concludes that some selective skillful intervention is needed to keep the military on track. This well-documented book will be accessible to lay readers as well as scholars. For academic and public libraries and for anyone else interested in the civilian-military relationship. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Strategy analyst Cohen challenges the view that wars are best fought by military technicians without civilian interference. Those who maintain that Vietnam would have been an American victory if only US generals had not had their hands tied by desk jockeys back home will doubtless take issue with Cohen's thesis, which argues that inflexible military professionalism was one factor in America's defeat. Reinforcing (but also qualifying) the adage "War is too important to be left to the generals," Cohen (Strategy/Johns Hopkins Univ. and US Naval War College) examines the history of military campaigns in which democratic governments managed their generals in the field. Among the most successful was Abraham Lincoln's constant intervention in Union military strategy; rather than concentrate on capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, as his generals wished, Lincoln insisted that the war be fought on the periphery of the South, steadily weakening the enemy by attrition. Taking issue with the "Lincoln finds a general" school of historiography, Cohen effectively demonstrates that the president "exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end." So did French leader Georges Clemenceau, who secured victory in WWI by balancing the competing demands of two very different generals, Petain and Foch, and of independent-minded allies. So too did Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion, a gifted student of history who introduced civilian control (and guerrilla tactics) into the new nation's army, making it something of an "organizational anomaly," but a remarkably effective one. Although he appreciates professionalism and warns of the dangers of civilians without military experiencebeing given too much managerial authority over affairs in the field, Cohen clearly endorses the idea of civilian control over those whose mission is to kill people and break things. Timely and provocative reading in a era of drum-beating.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400034048
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 326,468
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Eliot A. Cohen is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University. He previously served on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as an intelligence officer in the United States Army Reserve, and taught at the U.S. Naval War College and at Harvard University. He has written books and articles on a variety of military and national security-related subjects. A frequent consultant to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, he is a member of the Defense Policy Board, advising the Secretary of Defense. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Soldier and the Statesman

Few choices bedevil organizations as much as the selection of senior leaders. Often they look for those with high-level experience in different settings: New York City's Columbia University sought out America's most senior general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to lead it after World War II; President Ronald Reagan made a corporate tycoon his chief of staff in 1985; in the early 1990s, Sears Roebuck, an ailing giant, looked to the chief logistician of the Gulf War to help it turn around. Frequently enough the transplant fails; the sets of skills and aptitudes that led to success in one walk of life either do not carry over or are downright dysfunctional in another. The rules of politics differ from those of business, and universities do not act the way corporations do. Even within the business world, car companies and software giants may operate very differently, and the small arms manufacturer who takes over an ice-cream company may never quite settle in to the new culture.

To be sure, leaders at the top have some roughly similar tasks: setting directions, picking subordinates, monitoring performance, handling external constituencies, and inspiring achievement. And they tend, often enough, to think that someone in a different walk of life has the answers to their dilemmas, which is why the generals study business books, and the CEOs peruse military history. But in truth the details of their work differ so much that in practice the parallels often elude them, or can only be discovered by digging more deeply than is the norm.

The relations between statesmen and soldiers in wartime offer a special case of this phenomenon. Many senior leaders in private life must manage equally senior professionals who have expertise and experience that dwarf their own, but politicians dealing with generals in wartime face exceptional difficulties. The stakes are so high, the gaps in mutual understanding so large, the differences in personality and background so stark, that the challenges exceed anything found in the civilian sector-which is why, perhaps, these relationships merit close attention not only from historians and students of policy, but from anyone interested in leadership at its most acutely difficult. To learn how statesmen manage their generals in wartime one must explore the peculiarities of the military profession and the exceptional atmospheres and values produced by war. These peculiarities and conditions are unique and extreme, and they produce relationships far more complicated and tense than either citizen or soldier may expect in peacetime, or even admit to exist in time of war.

"Let him come with me into Macedonia"

To see why, turn back to the year 168 b.c. The place is the Senate of the Roman republic, the subject the proposed resumption of war (for the third time) against Macedonia, and the speaker Consul Lucius Aemilius:

I am not, fellow-citizens, one who believes that no advice may be given to leaders; nay rather I judge him to be not a sage, but haughty, who conducts everything according to his own opinion alone. What therefore is my conclusion? Generals should receive advice, in the first place from the experts who are both specially skilled in military matters and have learned from experience; secondly, from those who are on the scene of action, who see the terrain, the enemy, the fitness of the occasion, who are sharers in the danger, as it were, aboard the same vessel. Thus, if there is anyone who is confident that he can advise me as to the best advantage of the state in this campaign which I am about to conduct, let him not refuse his services to the state, but come with me into Macedonia. I will furnish him with his sea-passage, with a horse, a tent, and even travel-funds. If anyone is reluctant to do this and prefers the leisure of the city to the hardships of campaigning, let him not steer the ship from on shore. The city itself provides enough subjects for conversation; let him confine his garrulity to these; and let him be aware that I shall be satisfied with the advice originating in camp.1

The Consul's cry for a free hand echoes that of generals throughout history-although the historian Livy records that, as a matter of fact, an unusually large number of senators decided to accompany him on campaign. Still, the notion that generals once given a mission should have near total discretion in its execution is a powerful one.

Popular interpretations of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, the one supposedly a conflict characterized by civilian interference in the details of warmaking, the other a model of benign operational and tactical neglect by an enlightened civilian leadership, seem to confirm the value of a bright line drawn between the duties of soldiers and civilians. Thus the chief of staff to General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of US forces in Southwest Asia: "Schwarzkopf was never second-guessed by civilians, and that's the way it ought to work."2 Or more directly, then-President George Bush's declaration when he received the Association of the US Army's George Catlett Marshall Medal: "I vowed that I would never send an American soldier into combat with one hand tied behind that soldier's back. We did the politics and you superbly did the fighting."3 Small wonder, then, that the editor of the US Army War College's journal wrote to his military colleagues:

There will be instances where civilian officials with Napoleon complexes and micromanaging mentalities are prompted to seize the reins of operational control. And having taken control, there will be times when they then begin to fumble toward disaster. When this threatens to happen, the nation's top soldier . . . must summon the courage to rise and say to his civilian masters, "You can't do that!" and then stride to the focal point of decision and tell them how it must be done.4

Such a view of the roles of civilian and soldier reflects popular understandings as well. The 1996 movie Independence Day, for example, features only one notable villain (aside, that is, from the aliens who are attempting to devastate and conquer the Earth)-an overweening secretary of defense who attempts to direct the American military's counterattack against the invaders from outer space. Only after the interfering and deceitful civilian is out of the way can the president, a former Air Force combat pilot who gets back into uniform to lead the climactic aerial battle, and his military assistants (with the aid of one civilian scientist in a purely technical role) get on with the job of defeating the foe. To this comfortable consensus of capital, camp, and Hollywood one can add the weight of academic theory. Samuel Huntington, arguably the greatest American political scientist of our time, in a classic work, The Soldier and the State,5 laid out what he termed a theory of "objective control," which holds that the healthiest and most effective form of civilian control of the military is that which maximizes professionalism by isolating soldiers from politics, and giving them as free a hand as possible in military matters.

The normal theory of civil-military relations

We can call this consensus the "normal" theory of civil-military relations, which runs something like this. Officers are professionals, much like highly trained surgeons: the statesman is in the position of a patient requiring urgent care. He may freely decide whether or not to have an operation, he may choose one doctor over another, and he may even make a decision among different surgical options, although that is more rare. He may not, or at least ought not supervise a surgical procedure, select the doctor's scalpel, or rearrange the operating room to his liking. Even the patient who has medical training is well-advised not to attempt to do so, and indeed, his doctor will almost surely resent a colleague-patient's efforts along such lines. The result should be a limited degree of civilian control over military matters. To ask too many questions (let alone to give orders) about tactics, particular pieces of hardware, the design of a campaign, measures of success, or to press too closely for the promotion or dismissal of anything other than the most senior officers is meddling and interference, which is inappropriate and downright dangerous.

The difficulty is that the great war statesmen do just those improper things-and, what is more, it is because they do so that they succeed. This book looks at four indubitably great and successful war leaders, Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill, and David Ben-Gurion. The period of their tenure spans a substantial but not overwhelming period of time and different kinds of democratic polities. These four politicians have enough in common to bear comparison, yet differ enough to exhibit various features of the problem of civil-military relations in wartime. Given the dangers of thinking through these problems exclusively from an American perspective, it makes sense that only one of them should come from the pages of American history.

Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion led four very different kinds of democracies, under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They came from different traditions of civil-military relations, had had disparate personal experiences, and confronted different arrays of subordinates and peers. The nature of each of their democracies shaped the nature of the leadership that they could exert and that was required of them. They faced much in common, however. Institutions of a more or less free press and legislative bodies constrained their powers, and they had to deal with populations whose temper and disposition could affect their behavior directly. Powerful as each of these men was, he had to consider the possibility that his conduct of the war could bring about his fall from power by constitutional-that is, civilian-means. At the same time, in their dealings with the military they did not need to fear a violent coup. However, military opposition could and did translate into a variety of forms of political opposition, sometimes with a potential to overthrow them.

The period spanned here-a bit less than a century-saw the development of a distinctive style of warfare, sometimes called "total war" but perhaps more accurately described as "industrialized warfare." Success in war depended in large measure on an ability to obtain (through production or importation) mass-manufactured weapons. At the same time, these leaders did not have to cope with one of the distinctive challenges of a later strategic era, that of weapons of mass destruction. Interestingly enough, however, it was Churchill who early on grasped the paradoxical peace-inducing nature of atomic terror, and Ben-Gurion who laid the groundwork for an Israeli nuclear program at a time when Israeli conventional strength was set on a course of prolonged improvement.

These four statesmen conducted their wars during what may come to be seen as the time of the first communications revolution, when it became possible to communicate useful quantities of information almost instantaneously and to move large quantities of men and war materiél at great speed by means of mechanical transportation. In physics, the product of velocity and mass is momentum, and the same is true of warfare. Thus, these statesmen had to conduct wars at a time when the instruments of conflict themselves were changing and gathering speed. One might suggest that a second communications revolution is now upon us, in which a further quantum increase in the amount of information that can be distributed globally has occurred, and the role played by that information in all of civilized life will again transform society and ultimately the conduct of war. Thus these four cases exhibit the problems of wartime leadership during a period of enormous change. By understanding the challenges of those times we may also understand better the nature of the changes that are upon us today, in an age that looks to be quite different. The fundamental problems of statesmanship faced by the leaders of today have not changed as much as one might think. These are matters that I will explore in the conclusion to this book.

Finally, these statesmen were separated in time but linked by deep respect. Clemenceau visited the United States after the Civil War and professed a great admiration for Lincoln; Churchill paid Clemenceau the homage of rhetorical imitation (verging on plagiarism) on more than one occasion. And Ben-Gurion paid a tribute to Churchill's leadership in a note written a few years before the latter's death: "It was not only the liberties and the honour of your own people that you saved," wrote one aged giant to another.6 Thus a thin but definite personal, not merely conceptual thread links these four men. The personal similarities and contrasts among them will bear examination. Three of them (Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion) assumed the reins of high command at an advanced age; two of them with very little in the way of preparation for the conduct of large-scale warfare (Lincoln and Clemenceau, although one might make a similar point about Ben-Gurion). Each exhibited in different ways similar qualities of ruthlessness, mastery of detail, and fascination with technology. All four were great learners who studied war as if it were their own profession, and in many ways they mastered it as well as did their generals. And all found themselves locked in conflict with military men. When one reads the transcripts of Ben-Gurion's furious arguments in 1948 with the de facto chief of staff of the new Israel Defense Forces-Yigal Yadin, a thirty-two-year-old archaeologist who had never served in any regular army-they do not sound very different from the tempestuous arguments between Winston Churchill and the grim Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, twenty-five years older than Yadin and with a career spent in uniform. For all of the differences in their backgrounds the backwoods lawyer, the dueling French doctor turned journalist, the rogue aristocrat, and the impoverished Jewish socialist found themselves in similar predicaments: admiring their generals and despairing over them, driving some, dismissing others, and watching even the best with affection ever limited by wariness.

"war is not merely an act of policy,

but a true political instrument."

If these four could have had a collective military adviser, one suspects that it would have been an older figure yet, Carl von Clausewitz, the greatest theorist of war, whose On War remains a standard text for aspiring strategists to the present day. For the Prussian general, who spent most of his adult life on active service fighting against the French Revolution and Napoleon, the attempt to separate the business of politicians and soldiers was a hopeless task. For that reason, early in the nineteenth century he rejected the "normal" theory. To understand why, at the deepest level, these statesmen did not delegate war fighting to the generals, one turns to Clausewitz's famous dictum, that war is merely the continuation of politics by other means. But by this he has something far more radical in mind than is commonly thought.7

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2004

    Supreme Command: Very Unusual Cocktail of Traits

    Elliot A. Cohen masterfully discusses the normal theory of civilian control and how Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion breached the theory. All four men were four great democratic leaders at war for the survival of their respective nations. Cohen also looks at the civil-military relations in the current war against terrorism and WMD proliferation that our country is waging. The normal theory of civilian control posits that the civilian leadership take the back seat after defining the overall strategy. It is then up to the military leadership once given a mission to get near total discretion in its execution. Cohen persuasively demonstrates that Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion rightly believed that war was too important to be left to the generals. Unsurprisingly, they were all embroiled in conflict with their respective military establishment. They were accused of being ¿micro-managers¿, making some blunders here and there to be truthful to their records. Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were all somewhat open to influence, and practiced what Cohen calls an unequal dialogue with their generals ¿ a dialogue in which both sides expressed their views bluntly, eventually offensively, and not once but repeatedly. Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion made very clear to their generals that the final authority of civilian leadership was unquestionable. Interestingly, in their book ¿Execution The Discipline of Getting Things Done¿, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan come to a similar conclusion. The most effective business leaders are not out of touch with day-to-day activities but are deeply involved with all aspects of execution. Although Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion lived in different times and dealt with very different sets of problems, Cohen brilliantly demonstrated that they were remarkably very similar on several key points: 1) Mastery of Detail: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion demonstrated a measure of intuition and genius that stands well above the norm in human affairs. They all shared a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing information coming from many sources and an ability to synthesize and comprehend how a multiplicity of factors were interacting with one another. The eye for ¿ indeed, the fascination with ¿ detail displayed by these four men was not a mere irritating trait on their part but an essential element of their art and science of war. Furthermore, these four great statesmen were all not only well read in history, politics and literature but also the most gifted orators and authors. 2) Ruthlessness: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were very good ¿butchers¿, the first requirement for success as a prime minister to quote British Prime Minister, William Gladstone. These four statesmen, who had an exceptional ability to judge other men, strikingly had an unusual hardness in dealing with their enemies, wavering allies or internal opposition. 3) Fascination with Technology: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion had a great interest in new technology and were great learners who studied war as if they felt compelled to know in many ways as much as their generals did. 4) Obstinate, Unyielding Determination: The resolution Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion personified was the hard will of men who dealt with the greatest task of their lives, who had seen much and who did not make themselves illusions about the potential lethal outcome of their enterprise. 5) Moderation: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion displayed moderation totally compatible with their steely determination. The emotional state of these four statesmen was in deep contrast with that of those around them because of their unusual courage. 6) Courage: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion were blessed and cursed with the ability to see thi

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2003

    Interesting account of leadership

    Cohen is Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University. In this fascinating book, he studies the art of wartime leadership by examining Lincoln in the American Civil War, Clemenceau in World War One, Churchill in World War Two, and Ben-Gurion in Israel¿s war of independence. Cohen relates how Lincoln rightly dismissed Major John Key from the Union army for private remarks about the Union¿s strategy that conflicted with agreed Union policy. Cohen shows how all military matters are linked to wider political issues, how for instance a dispute in 1918 over whether to integrate American divisions or even regiments into larger French units had vast ramifications: as he sums up, ¿a seemingly tactical or even technical issue was fraught with the largest implications for French national morale, manpower policy, strategy, and alliance relations.¿ Cohen over-praises Churchill¿s strategic abilities. Churchill¿s imperialism led him into the disastrous foray into Greece in 1941, into underestimating Japanese military and naval abilities, also in 1941, and into diversionary adventures in North Africa in 1942, Italy in 1943, and Greece in 1944. His anti-communism led him to refuse to open the Second Front, as he had promised, in 1942 and 1943, and to his stingy attitude to supplying the Soviet Union. Yet Cohen calls him `the greatest war statesman of the century¿. Perhaps if Cohen had also studied the leadership of the country whose forces alone shattered more than 200 Nazi divisions - more than three quarters of Hitler¿s army - he might have found a greater! A chapter on `leadership without genius¿ covers US wars since Korea - Vietnam, the Gulf War, Somalia and Serbia - `a period in which the United States finds itself chronically resorting to the use of force¿, as Cohen quaintly puts it. He sums up that leaders need to listen, to be fertile and resourceful in act and speech, and must see things as they are, without illusions. And they must never accept the dogmatic division between civilian and military spheres of responsibility. As Harry Truman said, ¿the buck stops here¿, for military and political decisions alike.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2005

    Thank you Mr. Cohen!

    Cohen deals with the mistaken idea that military and political aspects of war are separate, or at least are better dealt with separately. Presently we tend to see a hands-off approach as the best way for political leaders to manage warfare. The example of Lyndon Johnson, going over the lists of bombing targets in a lost war, has come down to us as a warning: but Cohen says it is a false warning; he shows that Johnson did not intrude enough in the military sphere. Johnson did not ask the hard questions or insist upon answers; and that is what distinguished the four great war statesmen profiled. They questioned and they insisted upon answers. Sometimes they prodded the generals and other times they restrained them, but they were never passive. They immersed themselves in the details of war making and never forgot that their goals: thus Clemenceau restrained Foch¿s ambitions for a Rhine border, and Ben Gurion wisely stopped short of conquering the west bank. They could see a larger picture. Cohen¿s final chapters analyse the issues of war and strategy and ask what can really be done in the way of political control once the war beast is running wild: he notes John Keegan¿s observation that, that politics played little part in the First World War, certainly something to give one pause when contemplating `elective war¿. This is a superb book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2004

    Great leaders in time of war

    The four great leaders Elliot Cohen writes about are Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben - Gurion. Cohen tells the wartime story of each one , focusing on their relationship with their military commanders. He shows how the great political leader balances between being deeply involved in understanding the military situation, and allowing the military leader the degree of independence sufficient for accomplishing his work. He argues that these great political leaders showed a capacity not simply to evaluate their generals correctly, but to when necessary dismiss them, and replace them with those better capable of doing the job. He shows the four great statesmen here as determined and ruthless leaders for whom the word ' defeat' did not exist. He emphasizes their special quality of judgment in being able to evaluate complex and changing situations . He underlines their own personal courage. He in case shows how the leaders were tremendous students of every subject they had to deal with. He too writes in a fascinating and pleasurable way about the distinctive personalities of the great leaders. This is a highly readable, pleasurable and insightful work. It is much recommended.

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