Book Review: Warriors and Politicians: US Civil-Military Relations Under Stress

Warriors and Politicians: US Civil-Military Relations Under Stress is an outstanding book providing a real and practical look at American civil-military relations. Charles Stevenson comes to this book with the experience of two decades on the staff of four US Senators and as a professor fo the National War College. Unlike other authors on the subject, he puts significant ink in the beginning on the fact the “US Constitution was framed by men distrustful of standing armies and any concentrated power.” The product of this mistrust is evident in the established relationships, by Constutition and by practice, between the three institutions (Executive, Legislative, and military). There is an ongoing struggle where the military seeks autonomy and resources and offers professionalism and loyal subordination (per the Constitution) while the two political branches struggle, as the Framers intended, to make policies. The US military is “cross-pressured by its two masters and…often feels compelled to turn to one for relief from the other.” In the current national security crisis, this book is important reading to really understand the role of the military, the impact of Rumsfeld and the Generals Revolt, Congerssional debates and resolutions, and more.

Stevenson categorizes a number of significant episodes in American history to illustrate his view of American civil-military relations: The Challenge of Warfighting (Revolution, Lincoln/Congress/Generals, Vietnam), The Challenge of Rearmament (John Adams, FDR, Truman), and The Challenge of Transformation (Teddy Roosevelt, McNamera, Goldwater-Nichols, and Bush-Rumsfeld).

For the student of civil-military relations, Stevensons re-examines Peter D. Feaver’s principal-agent model and its failure to account for Congress and questions the applicability of Samual Huntington’s theories in the post-Cold War environment. He also looks at other big names on civil-military relations theory, offering shortcomings on their theories as well, such as Morris Janowitz, Eliot Cohen, Deborah Avant, Michael Desch, and Amy Zegart.

For the student of the use of American force, Stevenson looks at Theodore Roosevelt and the period of expansion and military modernization. For example, TR, at speech at the Naval War College in 1897, highlighted the big stick / soft voice approach: “Diplomacy is utterly useless where there is no force behind it; the diplomat is the servant, not the master, of the soldier.” But he saw the need for the need to lead by example: “Where we have won entrance by the prowess of our soldiers we must deserve to continue by the righteousness, the wisom, and the even-handed justice of our rule.” His anticipation of conflict with Congress, his belief in a strong executive, is perhaps more closely resembling President George W. Bush than Harry S Truman.

His analysis of the American experience with the military is deep and at the same time an easy read. Stevenson adroitly examines Presidential power and desires during war, rearmamment, and transformation, all phases we’ve gone through multiple times. This is a must have for anybody wanting more on the use and role of the US military in American foreign policy.