Leaders at War

Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions

Elizabeth N. Saunders
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Leaders at War
    Book Description:

    One of the most contentious issues in contemporary foreign policy-especially in the United States-is the use of military force to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states. Some military interventions explicitly try to transform the domestic institutions of the states they target; others do not, instead attempting only to reverse foreign policies or resolve disputes without trying to reshape the internal landscape of the target state. In Leaders at War, Elizabeth N. Saunders provides a framework for understanding when and why great powers seek to transform foreign institutions and societies through military interventions. She highlights a crucial but often-overlooked factor in international relations: the role of individual leaders.

    Saunders argues that leaders' threat perceptions-specifically, whether they believe that threats ultimately originate from the internal characteristics of other states-influence both the decision to intervene and the choice of intervention strategy. These perceptions affect the degree to which leaders use intervention to remake the domestic institutions of target states. Using archival and historical sources, Saunders concentrates on U.S. military interventions during the Cold War, focusing on the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. After demonstrating the importance of leaders in this period, she also explores the theory's applicability to other historical and contemporary settings including the post-Cold War period and the war in Iraq.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6099-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 When and How States Intervene
    (pp. 1-19)

    For over a century, military interventions have bedeviled U.S. presidents. At least since the United States acquired the ability to project power overseas in the late nineteenth century and especially since 1945, American leaders have grappled with difficult questions about the scope and purpose of U.S. interventions. From Vietnam to Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the debate has often centered on whether to use force merely to restrain other states’ international actions or instead to reshape the domestic institutions of countries that threaten U.S. interests. At an even more basic level, there has also been significant debate over whether to undertake...

  5. 2 Defining and Explaining Intervention
    (pp. 20-52)

    How do leaders’ causal beliefs about the origin of threats shape both the initial decision to intervene and the choice of intervention strategy? Given the discretionary nature of intervention, the ambiguity of national interests, and the large number of potential threats in the international environment, leaders need some way to assess and prioritize the many possible hazards they confront.¹ Unlike analysts who posit a single logic for how states confront threats, I suggest that different leaders, even within the same state, hold one of two ideal-typical causal beliefs, depending on whether they diagnose threats as emerging from a state’s domestic...

  6. 3 Dwight D. Eisenhower
    (pp. 53-91)

    Dwight D. Eisenhower took office with his World War II command experience less than a decade in the past. His presidency was marked by many crises, particularly in the Third World. Yet Eisenhower’s only overt military intervention as president was a limited operation in Lebanon in July 1958, near the end of his two-term presidency. Meanwhile, in neighboring Iraq, on July 14, 1958, a bloody coup overthrew the Hashemite monarchy. Despite pressure to widen the operation beyond Lebanon, Eisenhower declined to intervene in Iraq, just as he declined to intervene in other crises, such as Indochina in 1954. The Lebanon...

  7. 4 John F. Kennedy
    (pp. 92-131)

    John F. Kennedy’s presidency was marked by many forms of political, economic, and military intervention. Kennedy’s interventions—including his only overt military intervention, the counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam—stand out among those of Cold War presidents for their transformative character: from Latin America to Southeast Asia, Kennedy sought to influence the domestic institutions of Third World states on a large scale. But this pattern of interference did not result from international pressure, political expedience, or idealism. Kennedy came to office with a transformative agenda already in place, the product of a consistent and unusual focus on the Third World’s domestic...

  8. 5 Lyndon B. Johnson
    (pp. 132-185)

    Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency with far less interest in or experience with foreign policy than his predecessor. But his record on national security and foreign policy issues is more complex and multifaceted than previously understood, as a wave of scholarship has shown.¹ His long career in the House and Senate brought him into contact with many of the same national security and foreign policy issues with which Eisenhower and Kennedy grappled.

    Johnson is a particularly difficult figure to classify. The theory developed in this book identifies ideal types, which by definition cannot perfectly reflect reality. But his pre-presidential record...

  9. 6 Before and After the Cold War
    (pp. 186-211)

    This book has concentrated, for theoretical and methodological reasons, on the Cold War. To show how leaders’ causal beliefs about the origin of threats exert an independent and systematic effect on decisions to intervene—beyond arguments that decisions are merely contingent events that hinge on the role of individuals—I restricted my empirical investigation to one country within one international system and focused on three leaders who confronted a relatively stable part of the Cold War as well as some of the same ongoing challenges.

    The analytical leverage afforded by this narrow window, however, comes at the price of demonstrating...

    (pp. 212-224)

    The decision to launch an overt military intervention, particularly in a democracy, can be highly complex. The international environment, domestic politics, and the bureaucracy all exert constraints on decision makers. International relations scholars have long shied away from incorporating leaders into their theories, either because they do not believe that leaders play an independent role in shaping state behavior or because they believe leaders are important but do not think it is possible to specify systematically how leaders matter. But this book has shown that leaders play an independent and systematic role in shaping decisions to intervene and the choice...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 225-226)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 227-274)
  13. References
    (pp. 275-292)
  14. Index
    (pp. 293-302)