on June 8, 2012
In the book Elusive Victories, Polsky demonstrates the difficulties presidents encounter when they enter into wars. Examining a broad range of historical cases, from Abraham Lincoln through Barack Obama, he argues that while presidents may find it relatively easy to begin armed conflict, once the battle is underway they often lose the ability to control the outcome. As Lincoln famously said, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me." Presidents start wars but generally fail to manage the peace.
The book's critical analysis of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Johnson, Nixon, George W. Bush and a brief concluding chapter on Obama make it one of the most comprehensive works available on the subject today. Those who are interested in presidential wars from an academic perspective will find its insights into political dynamics both enlightenining and surprising; non-specialists will appreciate its readability and jargon-free prose. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this timely topic.
on January 16, 2015
The President of the United States functions as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and as such is ultimately responsible for the conduct and direction a war may take. The author of this book looks at several historical scenarios to examine the president's role in the conduct of war.
Specifically, the book looks at seven different presidents in six conflicts: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson and World War I, Franklin Roosevelt and World War II, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, George W. Bush and the Iraq War, and Barack Obama and the War in Afghanistan. Each scenario is looked at to determine the president's overall goals in the war and the results and how those results came about.
The author notes that being commander-in-chief is an awesome responsibility and no president completely avoided mistakes. In addition to the successful conduct of a war, a president also must pay attention to political concerns. He notes that presidents have a short time when they have a large amount of options to choose from during a war, but as time goes on the options become more severely limited. For example, Lyndon Johnson ultimately chose a moderate path in Vietnam. It was not a full-scale war in the traditional sense and he avoided this, but he also refused to scale back operations because it would look too much like admitting defeat.
Despite small criticisms he offers, he notes that both Lincoln and Roosevelt were excellent wartime leaders. By contrast, the Vietnam War proved difficult and George W. Bush is noted for inadequate planning and poor decision making in Iraq.
Overall, I found this book to be an interesting analysis of wartime presidential leadership. I would recommend this book to those interested in presidential history.
on September 25, 2014
Andrew Polsky's Elusive victory: the american presidency at war (2012) is focused on presidential leadership in war. He begins by defining victory as "the accomplishment of the identified goals" (p. 23). Successful war leaders are, therefore, agents who identify appropriate goals and overcome all challenges to those goals. Unsuccessful war leaders are agents who identify inappropriate goals and/or fail to overcome one or more challenges. In between successful and unsuccessful are all degrees of more or less.
The ends-means logic of victory provides Polsky with a template to analyze the wartime leadership of six presidents: Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, Bush I and II, and Obama. It also provides the structure of his six chapters, once he introduces his initial list of "The Recurring Challenges of Wartime Presidential Leadership" (23-5). As each challenge in his list arises, Polsky is able to identify the goal each president articulated to meet the challenge. Then, as his second step, he is able to trace out whether or not the president surmounted the challenges to accomplishing the goals identified. This template has allowed Polsky to write six absolute gems of grand strategic analysis. I cannot say enough about the quality, the judiciousness, and the generosity of the insights Polsky produces by employing this template.
on April 28, 2013
Very nice analysis of the behavior of several Presidents -- administrations. A tiny bit of bias, I believe, here and there, but certainly, all in all, very good analysis.