The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents

In This Review

The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents
By Mark Perry
Basic Books, 2017
368 pp.
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Ignore the off-putting title and subtitle of this book, which suggest that it alleges a militaristic conspiracy against elected leaders. In reality, the book is an enthralling, gossipy account of the interplay between senior U.S. military and political leaders since the end of the Cold War. The events covered in the book are already well known (the U.S.-led wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq), as are the personalities, including generals such as Wesley Clark, Tommy Franks, David Petraeus, and Colin Powell. What Perry adds are accounts of personal rivalries and interservice competition and details about how Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama looked to the generals to get the advice they wanted—which was not always the advice they really needed. Clinton’s first term opened with a public spat with Powell over whether gay people should be allowed to serve in the military, yet when it came to the wisdom of a war with Iraq a decade later, senior officers kept their misgivings to themselves. The book demonstrates that far from forming a cabal against the White House, U.S. military leaders have often failed to challenge civilian leaders who were making poor decisions.

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