Taken from Snake's review doc:


Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman and Leadership in Wartime (2002)''

The “Normal” theory: leave the conduct of war to professional military officers. Leave politics to the politicians. Politicians should not meddle in the conduct of war once they decide to use the military instrument of power.

Theory of “objective control” (Samuel Huntington, The Soldier and the State): “…the healthiest and most effect 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.”

Cohen disagrees with these statements. He supports the Clauswitzian view that “War is not merely an act of policy, but a true political instrument.” War always involves politics, and politics is an inherent part of war.

Belief in the “Normal” theory puts civilian control of the military at risk, which is of paramount concern.

“The civil hand must never relax, and it must without one hint of apology hold the control that has always belonged to it by right.”

The book examines four political leaders and their relationship with the military under wartime conditions: Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion.

Supreme Command Ch 6

The Great Exceptions

Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion all made mistakes… adhered to flawed views, their Genius lay in their ability to tolerate disagreement.

They accepted a large sphere of independence in their commanders.

Loose Assumptions, Unasked Questions, and Thin Analysis

Explores Vietnam, was it really lost by micromanaging civilians?

LBJ and McNamara did closely supervise some aspects of the war… Johnson approved most of the targets put forth by the Military. This lengthened the approval process and LBJ did place certain targets off limits. There are 2 mitigating arguments.

1) LBJ feared Chinese intervention

2) The modulated application of violence, resulted from a theory of strategic signaling and gradual escalation that proved false.

Cohen points out that the military did not really have any better ideas. And the military is still debating if Vietnam could have been won.

Perhaps Johnson should have engaged his military more… akin to Churchill and the beatings he gave his military over ideas… and the like…JCS leaders were chosen for political pliability, perhaps making them ineffective. Cohen addresses the incremental build up of forces, but says this was really only applicable to the Air War in the north… not the war in the sout. Population protection might have been better.

US Forces did have many restrictions placed on them… some stemmed from humanitarian concerns, or the nature of guerilla warfare.

Westmoreland had very little civilian oversight. He was just an unimaginative commander, he would have never lasted under Lincoln. There was no unified command in SE Asia. Civilians may have disagreed with Westmoreland but civilian leadership never called him on it.

The problem was with what LBJ thought force could achieve in Vietnam, and their inability to pick the right Generals to conduct a strategic dialog with them. They lacked any sound sense of what they needed to do to run a war.

Finally there’s a realization…what a military can and cannot do for a Democracy

There were many embittered officers after Vietnam, and that persisted until the 1980s. Resulted from a failure of American High Command to balance the requirements of war fighting with that of maintaining a workable Cold War Military Establishment.

The fault in Vietnam was a deadly combination of inept strategy and excessively weak civilian control. A failure to understand its tasks not micromanagement.

Cohen discuses the issues with never going to war with out the Guard, and Gen Abrams move to make that so. Civilian leadership accepted the Total Force… Weinberger Doctrine is laid out and it did not last long in practice. Quickly talks about 1986 re-org of JCS, Goldwater-Nichols.

Freedom of Action to do the job once the political decision has been made.

The Gulf War became just the opposite of Vietnam. Gulf War vindicated the “normal” theory of civil-military relations. Powell understood the working of government better than anyone else in uniform. Iraq was isolated. Basically Cohen says the stars aligned to make the war so successful.

Cohen addresses Powell’s lack of support for the war (albeit Powell says otherwise)… talks of Checkmate, Warden (190-1) Powell mistrusted the USAF and its claims. Air plan happened quickly, ground plan, not so much… the rest of 191-198 talks the Gulf War through to bring out…

Civilians learned lessons in Vietnam, did not repeat them in DS. Powell was key, Civilians had faith in the military. And then… Bush loses the election.

By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all

The Gulf War did not end it… Cohen says it strengthened it. It created a idea of “Normal” relations with civilian and military that weakened civilian control over the military. Cohen goes into Kosovo. And addresses the Clark, Cohen relationship… at the end, Clark had not friends in military high command and alienated the SecDef, and thus was retired early.

Routine Methods

The relationship today is easy military and civilians attend the same meetings of the council on foreign relations… etc…During the Cold War the US military accumulated enormous power without being aware of it. Senior officers were schooled in politics, Theater Commanders had massive power… normal theory called for sealing the military off from civilian meddling in the details, had eventually given way to involve itself in politics. . Cohen feels that the military may be taking over and civilians are forgetting what it means to fight a REAL war against a tough enemy. And of course the chapter ends with Clausewitz.. there is no bright dividing line between statesman and soldier. What are “Routine Methods?”

The Unequal Dialog

An Average Specimen of Humanity

Military and Civilians can have a great deal of discussion and debate but when it is done, the civilian leader wins. This weighs heavy on the General, who strain to manage the war while being managed by civilians. Cohen recaps historical insights

In all great emergencies everyone in more or less wrong

Successful statesmen’s strength lie in their awareness that their experts might be equally mistaken, a knowledge that is after all a dark form of wisdom. An art of leadership may lie in intuiting when other are even more wrong than oneself.

The Truest Consistency

Understanding limits is reflected in the way in which leaders deal with on e of the most difficult strategic challenges of their wars. Facing the possibilities of seeing their capital cut off or occupied. They forced their militaries to devote all resources necessary to their defense.

Moderation manifested itself in men in the way their emotional state contrasted with that of those around them. Moderation is compatible with ruthlessness and the leaders studied had a deep streak of wiliness to do terrible things. They had a hardness with which they could deal with wavering allies or internal opposition. Moderation is compatible with steel. These statesmen did not have placid temperaments. The quality that allowed them to persist was courage…courage is what makes a man of grandeur. In war to see things as they are, and not as one would like them to be, to persevere despite disappointment, to know of numerous opportunities lost and or perils still ahead, to lead knowing that one’s subordinates and colleges are in some cases in adequate, in others hostile, is a courage of a rarer kind than a willingness to expose oneself to the unlucky bullet or shell. Without it, all other would be in vain.

Purpose: Cohen outlines the central argument found in Huntington’s The Soldier and the State. He then presents criticisms of the work and introduces alternative approaches to Huntington’s view of civil-military relations.

Plato in his Republic discusses a guardian class that is gentle to their own and cruel to their enemies.

Fear of military dictatorship plagued English and American political philosophers, who saw in both classical and recent history the threats to civil liberty that could arise from large standing armies. British parliamentarian: “it is indeed impossible that the liberties of the people in any country can be preserved where a numerous standing army is kept.

Although America has never had the dealt with a coup or growing internal military threat—it does have its problems.

The proper roles of the military in shaping foreign policy, in setting the conditions under which it acts, in creating the kind of forces most appropriate for its tasks, in mobilizing civil society to support its activities these are all contentious issues.

Churchill Asks a Question

Most either loved Churchill, hated him, or depending upon the circumstances both.

Summed by Michael Howard; How could it be “that a man with so unpromising a background and so disastrous a track record could emerge in 1940 as the savior of his country.”

Historians leave us believing that Churchill was an unqualified, erratic meddler in military affairs.

Cohen states the opposite is true. Churchill’s work ethic was as deep as it was systematic. He worked long hours and produced a day and half’s work in each day. His knowledge of history and experience as a Naval officer made him more qualified than most to question the military machine on operations.

Churchill did not accept the WW-I principle that generals were infallible in conducting military affairs. He watched the failure of professional military men during WW-I and deduced therefore that a general “may well be below the level of his task, and has often been found so.”

Churchill continuously audited the Military’s judgment. “Churchill exercised one of his most important functions as war leader by holding their calculations and assertions up to the standards of massive common sense informed by wide reading and experience at war.”

Churchill probed the military incessantly to the greatest depth of detail. This probing sharpened military minds to back all decisions with incontrovertible facts, or face reversal by Churchill.

“At the summit, true strategy and politics are one.” From Churchill’s The World Crisis.

Churchill had three gifts:

1. The ability to probe.

2. The ability to shape a large vision and fight for it in adverse conditions.

3. The ability to mobilize the English language and send it into battle.

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