A Book I Would Like to Read

A thought crystalized while following Gen. David Patraeus’s Senate confirmation and subsequent progress: here the man meets the plan – yet his success depends crucially on his ability, on one hand, to convince any number of more or less hostile onlookers that he will succeed, and on the other hand, to negotiate the political and economic conditions for success from Congress and the Pentagon. In fact, generalship is politics.

I would like to read a history of the political-military interface, with equal attention to political molding of military action and military influence of politics and political outcomes. How do politicians and civilian policymakers impose change on military institutions? How do they set priorities and coordinate efforts in war? How do military leaders shape wartime policies – e.g. with regard to escalation? How do they shape the society in which the military is embedded – including its political and legal institutions? To what degree can “the military” be distinguished from society?

I wouldn’t confine this study to any one time or place, but American history abounds with political-military tension and perhaps deserves its own volume. A partial list of cases off the top of my head:

  • George Washington and the Continental Congress
  • Continental Army militia leaders in early U.S. politics and business – this could be a socioeconomic study in its own right
  • The Federalists (Hamilton), the anti-Federalists (Jefferson), the construction of the U.S. Navy, and the intervention in Tripoli
  • The presidential candidacies of Jackson, McClellan, Grant, and Eisenhower
  • Lincoln and his generals
  • Lee and the Confederate government
  • Teddy Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet
  • The influence of military thinkers and planners on early Cold War policy
  • Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Truman and MacArthur in Korea
  • Milton Friedman and the draft
  • Donald Rumsfeld, the revolution in military affairs, and the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq

So on and so forth. Perhaps Robert Kagan could take up this topic once he completes the sequal to Dangerous Nation?

PREVIOUSLY on Zeal and Activity: Review: Dangerous Nation


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