The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

 

You’ve got to ask the question, what caused me to want to win?” George W. Bush, during his oral history for The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decision to Surge in Iraq

How does a president decide to send troops into battle? How does he or she weigh the contradictory, even conflicting advice from national security officials, military advisers, and those outside of government? Variations across time, individuals, and problems mean that Presidents have approached wartime decisions more like artists than engineers. They have drawn on bits of history, their interpretation of the national interest, and consideration of their fellow citizen’s views in making choices and crafting strategy.

Continue reading “The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making”

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The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

BUNDLE WEEK: Michael McGandy’s bundle on the history of United States engagement in the Pacific

For readers interested in the history of United States engagement in the Pacific, this is a good time to get caught up on the Cornell University Press backlist!

In recent months, I have signed a tide of wonderful—deeply researched, fluidly written, smartly argued—new books on U.S. foreign policy and military engagement in East Asia and Southeast Asia in the post-World War II era. New books are coming in fall 2019 and spring 2020 from Oliver Charbonneau, Sangjoon Lee, Katherine Moran, Thomas K. Robb and David James Gill, Nancy Shoemaker, and Colleen Woods. Their work will change how we look at the U.S. role as a Pacific power in the 19th and 20th centuries and so got me to thinking about trends in our historical analysis of events like World War II, Bandung Conference, and the Vietnam War. The bundle of backlist books I have selected is a wonderful mix of histories of U.S. strategy, foreign policy, civilian engagement, and military action in the Pacific.  These are the books which the new wave of works if carrying forward, and so are necessary reading for everyone who follows the influence of the U.S. in the broad Pacific region.

Continue reading “BUNDLE WEEK: Michael McGandy’s bundle on the history of United States engagement in the Pacific”

BUNDLE WEEK: Michael McGandy’s bundle on the history of United States engagement in the Pacific

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in crisis. NATO is one of the most successful and longest-lasting military alliances in history.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

A glance at news headlines from any of the last seven decades might leave you thinking NATO has been in a perpetual state of crisis since its origins in 1949. And yet, time and time again, the Presidents and Prime Ministers of NATO states have decided that NATO should – indeed must – remain in existence. What explains this cycle of crises accompanied by determination to keep NATO together? How can every generation’s pundits write headlines warning of the imminent demise of the alliance, while its leaders insist that the alliance must continue?

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The answer to the riddle lies in the fact that many of NATO’s largest and most important powers were led by governments that relied on public support for their political power. This led to what I call in Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order the “dangers of democracy.” It was these dangers that help us why NATO leaders thought the alliance was necessary but also why they constantly fretted about its future.

The leaders who formed and maintained NATO did so because they thought the alliance would protect members from being blackmailed by the Soviet Union. In the late 1940s, the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin argued that the Soviet Union would use its military and political power to compel other states to act as Moscow wished. The “Russians,” as Bevin called them, “seem to be fairly confident of getting the fruits of war without going to war.” Soviet pressure on Finland, in which Moscow gained significant influence in the shaping of Finland’s foreign policies, offered an example of how this might happen. A Soviet ultimatum to Norway, and later a coup in Czechoslovakia, suggested that the Soviets would gain influence in Europe by picking off one state at a time. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it seemed likely that Europeans, cajoled or bullied by the Soviet Union, would urge their leaders to give in to any Soviet demands rather than risk confrontation. George F. Kennan, the famous American diplomat and expert on the Soviet Union, explained this fear eloquently when he said that “it is the shadows rather than the substance of things that move the hearts, and sway the deeds, of statesmen.” And the Kremlin cast long shadows.

NATO offered a solution.

NATO’s integrated military commands were never so much about being able to defend against the Soviet Union in case of war, but in cancelling out the Soviet Union’s ability to influence and compel European states to do what Moscow wished. Ideally, NATO would ensure that the Soviet Union would not bother trying to pressure an ally. But if a crisis came, NATO’s military capability had to be real enough to ensure that leaders could convince their citizens they did not have to give in. The alternative would be for frightened voters to pressure their leaders – be it through elections or other public protest – to give into Soviet demands. NATO insured against one danger of democracy – a panicked electorate faced with crisis – that might have otherwise allowed for the “Finlandization” of more European states.

The NATO leaders’ other worry, however, was that in times of peace, or even cold war, their electorates were not interested in maintaining the defense spending on which NATO relied.

Periods of détente with the Soviet Union seemed to strip away the rationale for NATO. The public reaction to the Vietnam War in both the United States and Europe caused allies to wonder whether there had been an outright rejection of the military instrument of foreign policy. These worries were amplified in the 1970s and 1980s as some protesters challenged NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

NATO’s champion believed the alliance prevented crises and would allow them to prevail if one did occur.

They also believed that NATO worked, in a sense, too well – that it caused their voters to forget why NATO was important. On its 70th anniversary, the greatest challenge to the alliance may be an American president who ignores these nuances and does not understand the power of shadows.

 


About the author of this blog post: Timothy Andrews Sayle is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. He is the author of Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order, and the editor, with Jeffrey A. Engel, Hal Brands, and William Inboden of The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decisions to Surge in Iraq, forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

On Veterans Day, remember that civilians serve too

On Veterans Day, the nation thanks those who have served honorably in the United States armed forces in both peacetime and wartime. It should also be a time to remember that not all of the veterans of America’s foreign wars wear uniforms.

Civilians serve too.

Modern warfare, especially the counterinsurgency and nation-building missions that the armed forces have been called upon to perform in recent years, requires a range of civilian expertise.  This can involve base management or intelligence analysis.  It has also meant going outside the wire to be part of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which work to bolster the performance of local governments as part of ongoing nation-building missions. This work is vital to the military’s exit strategy, and hence getting the troops home.

As I show in my book To Build as well as Destroy: The American Experience of Nation-Building in South Vietnam, civilians have been deploying to war zones for a long time.  In fact, the practice reached its postwar height in the Vietnam War.  This is something it is easy to miss if we rely on the standard history books and movies to gain our understanding of the war.

As well as a brutal guerrilla war, Vietnam was also a war of nation-building. The issue over which the war was fought was the governance of South Vietnam. Would it be united with Communist North Vietnam, or would it develop an independent, non-Communist government?  The latter was the U.S. preference, and over the course of the war over ten thousand civilians deployed to Southeast Asia to try to shape the development of South Vietnam’s government to enable it to defend itself from the Communist challenge.

They came from a variety of backgrounds and agencies – the State Department, the CIA, the Agency for International Development, even the Peace Corps. In the early years, some hitchhiked from postings elsewhere in Asia to join the nation-building mission.  Many were inspired by the ideals of development with an almost missionary zeal – they wanted to save the people of South Vietnam from the corruption, mismanagement and brutality of their own government. They often served deep in the countryside, where no American had ever gone before.

As American involvement in the Vietnam War expanded in the late 1960s, this nation-building apparatus grew in size as well.  In 1967, the Johnson administration created the Office of Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) to expand the nation-building mission. CORDS was headed by a civilian, and throughout its ranks thousands of military and civilian personnel worked side by side on the same mission, being exposed to the same dangers and writing each other’s efficiency reports.  Its “sandwich” structure meant that civilians gave orders to military personnel and vice-versa.

It was an experiment without precedent in American history and has not been repeated on such a scale since.

Civilians who have served in war zones have faced some unique burdens, both during the Vietnam War and today. They are all volunteers who usually must be granted permission by their host agencies to go overseas. Often these agencies see such deployments as a distraction from the “real” jobs their employees are supposed to be doing at home, and so serving can be harmful to careers.  As a result, the military has often struggled to attract enough volunteers. As of July 2018, 70% of the necessary positions for civilians in Afghanistan were unfilled.

So, this Veterans Day, spare a thought for these “expeditionary civilians”. They often serve in the shadows, and some pay the ultimate price.  They deserve to be honored, too.

to build as well


 

About the author of this blog post: Dr. Andrew J. Gawthorpe is Lecturer in History and International Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands.  He has written for publications including Stars and Stripes, Foreign Affairs, and more.

On Veterans Day, remember that civilians serve too

Doctors at War – A Modern Nonfiction Update to M*A*S*H

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Cambridge Professor Embedded in Afghanistan Military Hospital
Explores the Courage, Compassion, and Comic Tragedy of Modern War

“There is a massive propaganda industry, embraced by all institutions from schools to the press and churches, that seeks to deny the stark facts de Rond chronicles. This is why the British Ministry of Defense did not want the book published. De Rond shines a light on a reality we are not supposed to see. It is a reality, especially in an age of endless techno war, we must confront if we are to recover the human.”
—Chris Hedges, author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

We weren’t supposed to read Mark de Rond’s new book Doctors at War.

A high-ranking medical officer in the British Ministry of Defense insisted de Rond write this book, and do so without fear of censorship. However, upon its completion, the ministry told de Rond it would oppose the book due to his exceptionally candid and true-to-life account of a trauma surgical team at work in the “world’s bloodiest” field hospital, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan. Despite such pressure, Mark de Rond has chosen to publish the book.

Doctors at War tells of the highs and lows of surgical life in hard-hitting detail, bringing to life a morally ambiguous world in which good people face impossible choices, and in which routines designed to normalize experience have the unintended effect of highlighting war’s absurdity. Mark de Rond, a professor of organizational ethnography at Cambridge University, lifts the cover on a world rarely ever seen, let alone written about, and helps rebalance popular and overly heroic, adrenaline packed tales of what it is like to go to war. Here the crude and visceral coexist with the tender and affectionate, as do pleasure and guilt, kindness and cruelty, courage and cowardice, and the profound and pointless. In sum, it provides a unique insight into the lived experience of war from the point of view of good people forced to make difficult choices in an absurd environment.

Purchase Doctors at War today on our website and receive a special 30% discount. Use promo code 09CAU6.

For more information please contact Jonathan Hall: jlh98@cornell.edu

Interview with Mark de Rond:
Continue reading “Doctors at War – A Modern Nonfiction Update to M*A*S*H”

Doctors at War – A Modern Nonfiction Update to M*A*S*H