- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Free Press (June 4, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743230493
- ISBN-13: 978-0743230490
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 65 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#530,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #321 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Elections & Political Process > Leadership
- #816 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Elections & Political Process > General
- #1020 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > International & World Politics > Security
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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime
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Using the example of great modern leaders - Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion - all of whom were without military experience, Supreme Command argues that, in fact, civilian statesman can be brilliant commanders in times of war. Supreme Command is about leadership in wartime, or more precisely about the tension between two kinds of leadership, civil and military. Eliot Cohen uncovers the nature of strategy-making by looking at four great democratic war statesman and seeing how they dealt with the military leaders who served them. In doing so he reveals fundamental aspects of leadership and provides not merely an historical analysis but a study of issues that remain crucial today. By examining the cases of four of the greatest war statesmen of the twentieth century he explores the problem of how people confront the greatest challenges that can befall them, in this case national leaders. Beginning with a discussion of civil-military relations from a theoretical point of view, Cohen lays out the conventional beliefs about how politicians should deal with generals and the extent to which either can influence the outcome of war. From these he draws broader lessons for students of leadership generally.
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Before getting into an overview of the thesis, a quick comment which explains the note of four, not five, stars:
The chapter on Clemenceau feels weaker than the others (although my opinion may be colored by the fact I grew up in France and studied French history), as it does not fully address Clemenceau's role in shaping the peace negotiations after WWI. Clemenceau undoubtedly shared the same view of civ-mil ties as the other three statesmen, but was perhaps not as effective in exercising his authority.
A fascinating, engrossing, stimulating read, with a clear thesis which goes against "conventional" thinking on civil-military ties. The author identifies the "normal" theory of civ-mil ties (and hence, of war) as according primacy to military commanders in time of war. The author, writing at a time when strategists are rediscovering Clausewitz, argues instead that civilians retain ultimate authority over what is at its core a political initiative, war. This view will no doubt shock many who believe that war is fought for moral reasons against "bad guys," but that paradigm, which has been elevated since WWII to canon, is patently false. The author shows, in clear prose, why war cannot be left to the generals -- if only because the objective of war is to shape the peace, whose outlines can only be decided by civilian policymakers. If policy goals evolve during the war, then strategy must adapt, and strategy is thus a dynamic entity defined through a constant but "unequal dialogue" between military commanders and civilian policymakers who have final say.
Even if you don't agree -- especially if you don't agree -- read this book, it will stimulate your own thinking.
I was more struck by his point via these two leaders,as I was less impressed with the sections on Churchill and Ben Gurion, which sadly seemed to approach hero-worship at times rather than objective analysis. Although starting the book in a positive light, Cohen makes use of his following arguments, discussing the Vietnam War then, later, the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the Vietnam War discussion is very applicable to this topic, to do so in a single chapter as Cohen has done not only rushes the judgment but necessitates huge generalizations that ruin the effectiveness of his argument. Furthermore, I could barely get through the chapter on Rumsfeld and Iraq. Written in 2003, this book was not an accurate depiction of Rumsfeld's style, nor should any book, on any war, that hopes to be objective and make light of all facts be written less than (at least) a decade or two after the conflict. Using Rumsfeld as an example is this case was a poor academic decision and representative of Cohen's desire to espouse his personal philosophy.