PRESIDENTS UNDER FIRE: Commanders in Chief in Victory and Defeat by James R. Arnold

PRESIDENTS UNDER FIRE: Commanders in Chief in Victory and Defeat

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A compelling and well-argued study of presidential leadership in time of war. Military historian Arnold (The First Domino, 1991) takes four principal case studies of wartime chief executives to illustrate the vagaries of power. Although through the Vietnam War all presidents had acted in military management in roughly the same ways, some succeeded in prosecuting wars while others failed utterly. Arnold points to intangibles like leadership and the ability to rally the populace as important factors. For instance, Lyndon Johnson was accused of micromanaging the Vietnam conflict; but Arnold correctly points out that predecessors who had performed in similar fashion emerged triumphant. Why, then, was LBJ America's first wartime president to be forced to step aside? Because the American people mistrusted him in the wake of the Tet Offensive and signs that the war could never be won. Also examined is George Washington, who managed to reverse initial disasters and win early Indian wars; James Polk, the first nonmilitary man to be a wartime president and who won the Mexican War almost solely by the strength of his own will; and Jefferson Davis, a bright military personality who nonetheless presided over Southern defeat as president of the Confederacy. These studies are tied together with discussions of other presidents under fire -- such as William McKinley (who, fearful of appointing a flamboyant general and potential political rival to lead the nation into battle during the Spanish-American War, instead chose an aging, obese, and lackluster commander). A final section looks at George Bush during the Gulf War. Taking a lesson from LBJ's perceived failing during Vietnam, Bush deliberately made only key strategic decisions so as to be thought of as letting the military have a free hand on the battlefield. Well-written and engaging, the book will appeal to those interested in politics and military history.

Pub Date: July 8th, 1994
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Orion/Crown