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The Best of Books 2016

 

The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes

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The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes
By Caitlin Talmadge
Cornell University Press, 2015
320 pp.
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Military analysts and historians have long held that variations in political systems can affect military effectiveness. For example, authoritarian systems tend to be bolder than democracies; for that reason, authoritarian leaders are more prone to strategic error. In line with other scholars who have recently examined this issue, Talmadge distinguishes between authoritarians who are able to focus unremittingly on the enemy and those who must watch their backs at home. If political leaders are fearful of military coups, they tend to interfere with command structures to prevent the rise of charismatic and ambitious generals. The resulting disruption and uncertainty undermine military performance, especially during complex operations. Talmadge backs up her compelling thesis with well-chosen, interesting case studies. During the Iran-Iraq War, she explains, regimes in both countries worried about coups. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was simply paranoid by nature; Iranian leaders feared that the military still housed loyalists to the shah, whom they had only recently overthrown. Both countries’ armies performed better when political leaders put aside such concerns and concentrated on the war. 

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