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Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

de Eliot A. Cohen

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Using the example of great modern leaders - Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion - all of whom were without military experience, Supreme Command argues that, in fact, civilian statesman can be brilliant commanders in times of war. Supreme Command is about leadership in wartime, or more precisely about the tension between two kinds of leadership, civil and military. Eliot Cohen uncovers the nature of strategy-making by looking at four great democratic war statesman and seeing how they dealt with the military leaders who served them. In doing so he reveals fundamental aspects of leadership and provides not merely an historical analysis but a study of issues that remain crucial today. By examining the cases of four of the greatest war statesmen of the twentieth century he explores the problem of how people confront the greatest challenges that can befall them, in this case national leaders. Beginning with a discussion of civil-military relations from a theoretical point of view, Cohen lays out the conventional beliefs about how politicians should deal with generals and the extent to which either can influence the outcome of war. From these he draws broader lessons for student… (més)
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As stated in the preface, "This is a book about leadership in wartime - or more precisely about the tension between two kinds of leadership, civil and military." Cohen examines the military leadership of four war statesmen he considers to have been "great": Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben Gurion. Their genius lay in their abilities to: (1) manage people - especially, conflicting personalities - so as to utilize all of them fruitfully; (2) tolerate, and even encourage, disagreement; (3) be flexible (willingness to change with circumstances and/or new information); (4) understand the interplay of war and politics; (5) juggle political coalitions; (6) relently acquire of information through interrogation of military (making a continuous audit of the military's judgment); (7) goad commanders into action; (8) inspire ("exhibiting a mastery of political rhetoric"); and (9) make an effort to mold the peace as well as the war ("to shape a larger vision"). Above all, they, as individuals, made an actual difference in the outcome of the wars. Contrasts are drawn with leadership during Vietnam, Iraq I, and Iraq II. Cohen clearly favors close civilian oversight (preferably of course, by a great leader). Interesting and thought-provoking read. (JAF)
  nbmars | Dec 24, 2006 |
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Using the example of great modern leaders - Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion - all of whom were without military experience, Supreme Command argues that, in fact, civilian statesman can be brilliant commanders in times of war. Supreme Command is about leadership in wartime, or more precisely about the tension between two kinds of leadership, civil and military. Eliot Cohen uncovers the nature of strategy-making by looking at four great democratic war statesman and seeing how they dealt with the military leaders who served them. In doing so he reveals fundamental aspects of leadership and provides not merely an historical analysis but a study of issues that remain crucial today. By examining the cases of four of the greatest war statesmen of the twentieth century he explores the problem of how people confront the greatest challenges that can befall them, in this case national leaders. Beginning with a discussion of civil-military relations from a theoretical point of view, Cohen lays out the conventional beliefs about how politicians should deal with generals and the extent to which either can influence the outcome of war. From these he draws broader lessons for student

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