The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush

By Foster, Gregory D. | Naval War College Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush


Foster, Gregory D., Naval War College Review


Herspring, Dale R. The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas, 2005. 512pp. $45

Civil-military relations are the subject of considerable scrutiny and debate throughout the Clinton presidency. Unfortunately, the academicians, journalists, and occasional uniformed professionals who joined in that debate have been inexplicably mute since the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld regime came to power. So this inquiry by Kansas State University political science professor Dale Herspring offers a welcome shot of intellectual adrenalin to an enduringly important, if temporarily moribund, topic. Herspring confronts two issues that are central to the canonical discourse of civil-military relations: civilian control of the military by elected and appointed political officials, and the political neutrality or nonneutrality of those in uniform. Herspring is well qualified to address the subject, having spent twenty years as a foreign service officer in relatively senior State Department and Defense Department assignments, as well as some thirty-two years of combined active and reserve duty in the Navy.

Focusing his attention primarily on the senior ranks of the military-the controlled- rather than on the civilian controllers, Herspring considers the intersection of presidential leadership and military culture an arena of inevitable conflict. Where the two are compatible, he argues, conflict is minimized; where they are not compatible, the frequency and intensity of conflict are magnified. He holds that since the Truman administration the military has become progressively more political, displaying common interest-group behavior by using Congress and the media to serve its own institutional self-interest at the expense of dutiful obedience to executive civilian authority.

Herspring devotes a chapter to each of the twelve presidencies from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. Each chapter, identical in structure, begins with a brief examination of the leadership style of the president concerned, along with two or three case studies depicting the military's reaction to it on particular critical issues, and concludes with a discussion of two questions: To what degree did the president's leadership style mirror or violate military culture, and how did that style affect civil-military relations? Did military culture change or employ new methods to oppose change?

Conflict between senior civilian officials and the senior military, though inevitable, Herspring believes, can be mitigated by presidential behavior. Over time, such conflict has been most pronounced in administrations where presidential leadership style and military culture have been most at odds. …

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