Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf

By Perry, Troy D. | Military Review, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf


Perry, Troy D., Military Review


PRESIDENTIAL DECISIONS FOR WAR: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, Gary R. Hess, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. 2001. 262 as $49.95.

The decision to commit U.S. forces to combat is perhaps the most difficult and agonizing that any U.S. president might face. When exercising wartime leadership, a president must simultaneously contemplate myriad formal and informal powers at his disposal. Indeed, President George W. Bush currently faces the serious challenges of balancing these powers while executing the war on terrorism.

In Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, Gary R. Hess adeptly analyzes the factors influencing a president in his wartime decisions. Hess's approach to the study of presidential decisionmaking is similar to that of Richard E. Neustadt in his seminal work Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents (The Free Press, New York, 1991). Unlike Neustadt, who focuses on a president's formal and informal powers, Hess focuses specifically on the complex decisions of three presidents as applied to the limited wars each faced: Harry S. Truman in Korea, Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam, and George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. According to Hess, the effectiveness of presidential leadership in limited wars is mainly based on the following factors:

* The ability to clearly define political and military objectives.

* The ability to rely on sound counsel from presidential advisers.

* The ability to gain the support of Congress and the American people. …

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