The next election looms over nearly all decisions democratic leaders make. Choices about military strategy are no exception. Whatever the merits of a particular policy, it could well be overturned, along with the rest of a leader’s agenda, if it prompts voters to remove him or her from office. Some observers have long worried that electoral pressures give rise to short-term thinking and other pathologies in foreign policy decisionmaking. Others have argued, on the contrary, that electoral accountability leads to greater caution and prudence about war and peace. Andrew Payne’s article addresses the important question of how electoral pressures actually worked in an important recent conflict. Its case studies of decisionmaking under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama during the latter stages of the Iraq War are detailed and compelling. The evidence reviewed in the article could also speak to alternative theoretical mechanisms that the article does not consider in detail.
The quote from baseball legend (and wordsmith) Yogi Berra throws caution at legendary Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder to all politicians at election time. And for good reason, judging from the titles of the two new headlines above about the 2018 primary and general elections: politics are not local but national, with President Donald Trump front and center; Jonathan Martin can readily make this case. Regarding former President Barack Obama’s endorsements of congressional and state-level candidates, Alexi McCammond then goes on to say “Why it matters: Obama is the left’s answer to President Trump’s continued presence in the primaries. Not only will Obama announce another round of endorsements before Nov. 6, but he also plans to campaign in several of these states throughout the fall.”
In a political climate characterized by daily claims of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts,’ it is hard to think of a subject more relevant to our time than the American presidency and the politics of deceit. In his new book, John Schuessler demonstrates that the issue of deception and American foreign policy long predates the Trump era. Deceit on the Road to War examines three important case studies: Franklin’s Roosevelt’s maneuvering of the American people into support for the war in Europe, Lyndon Johnson’s deceitful efforts to justify greater American military involvement in North and South Vietnam, and George W. Bush’s overselling of the war in Iraq. Of course, not all cases of presidential deception are exactly the same and the results can also vary. Unlike Johnson and Bush, FDR’s use of deception was probably necessary given the situation he faced, and America’s victory in the war has subjected him to far less historical scrutiny than presidents whose deception ended in defeat.
Almost without exception, students of security policy are not only analysts and proponents of abstract theories, they are also deeply concerned with issues of contemporary international politics and have strong policy preferences. There are likely to be connections here, and it is by no means obvious that the latter are subservient to the former. With all due respect to Kenneth Waltz, very few of us became drawn to international politics by reading his books. I doubt if I was atypical in becoming interested because of the events that were occurring when I was growing up and in being fairly quick to develop my own opinions, as ill-grounded as they were. By the time I was exposed to serious academic work, let alone starting to publish, my views about American foreign policy and a general political outlook were well established.