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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime
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.
Vietnam Fog Continues to Lift
By Q. Publius
- July 27, 2002
This well researched book will have an impact on civilian-military relations as long-lasting as Samuel Huntington's "Soldier and the State," published fifty years ago but still a landmark. The author examines four examples of excellent democratic leadership of the military during wartime: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion. These four break the current "normal theory of civil-military relations," which holds that civilian leaders should set political goals and leave the details of implementation to the neutral competence of military professionals. The "normal theory" is currently the predominant orthodoxy: Lyndon Johnson meddled in Vietnam military matters, irretrievably messing up that effort; George H.W. Bush set the goals in the Persian Gulf and left the military unimpeded to execute policy. The four supreme commanders Cohen expounds upon break the current orthodoxy: they were deeply involved in military matters, Churchill to the point of driving his generals nuts with... read more
Intelligently provocative and acutely timely
By Ralph H. Peters
- June 4, 2002
This is Eliot Cohen's most intriguing and accomplished work to date. As one who has disagreed with Professor Cohen almost as often as I have agreed with him in the past, I must acknowledge the immediate (and likely enduring) value of this very well-done study of the relationships between heads of state and the military men working for them. While this book will not end the debate over "Who's on first?", it certainly deepens it. And it's simply good reading. I'm still not convinced that civilian leaders always know best--especially given their often-willful ignorance of the military experience--but I certainly believe that the civilians must always be firmly in charge, and Cohen makes that case indisputably along the way. It would have been interesting to bookend these studies with a look at the relationship between Bismarck and the elder Moltke, who enjoyed perhaps the most suspicion-laden symbiotic relationship in history--and whose grand successes illustrate Cohen's... read more
Covers the highest level (politicostrategic) only!
- August 31, 2003
If you want the best ever book to assess the command and leadership of a single FIGHTING leader, buy Joel Hayward's highly praised "For God and Glory: Lord Nelson and His Way of War". Its assessment is original, thorough and relevant to today's leadership studies.But if you want a book that deals with that highest level of leadership, the political employment and direction of fighting forces, then this is your book. As you would expect from author Cohen, you get rigorous and insightful analysis of the difficulties and responsibilities involved in wielding massive force. You get lucid explanation, fluent writing and clear and compelling argument. In short, this book is better even than Martin van Creveld's book on military leadership.
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