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Hagel’s views on when and how to use military force and civil-military relations

Over on The Daily Beast I have a piece, co-authored with my long-time comrade-in-scholarly-arms Chris Gelpi, looking at whether Senator Chuck Hagel’s views about when and how to use force are out of step with the military rank and file. Drawing on a book we published some time ago, we argue that Hagel’s reluctance to ...

By , a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Over on The Daily Beast I have a piece, co-authored with my long-time comrade-in-scholarly-arms Chris Gelpi, looking at whether Senator Chuck Hagel’s views about when and how to use force are out of step with the military rank and file.

Drawing on a book we published some time ago, we argue that Hagel’s reluctance to intervene in Syria is fully in keeping with what might be called a "military dove" position. The military and veterans of the military like Hagel are particularly reluctant to intervene in humanitarian and nation-building missions, and this is fully in keeping with Hagel’s oft-expressed opposition to such missions. Hagel’s strong opposition to the Iraq surge and his tepid support-cum-skepticism regarding the Afghanistan surge less readily fits the military profile, for we found that the military tend to oppose interventions but favor higher levels of escalation once an intervention has occurred. That is, we found that in general the military favor what has been called the Powell Doctrine: Use force rarely but decisively. Non-veterans in the civilian elite, by contrast, were more willing to intervene, even in humanitarian scenarios, but also more willing to see those interventions constrained and at lower levels of escalation.

Of course, we are talking about general patterns and there are always important exceptions. Indeed, just last week General Dempsey indicated that he was more willing to see the U.S. intervene in the Syrian crisis, at least covertly. Dempsey’s stated position on Syria does not seem to fit the Powell Doctrine and was at odds with the position of President Obama — the most consequential non-veteran in the policymaking apparatus — as well as Senator Hagel, the veteran Obama picked to be Dempsey’s boss.

In other words, Hagel’s views on whether and how to use force are within the mainstream of civil-military patterns that show up at the aggregate level, even though they may diverge somewhat from the particular constellation of choices he might confront should he be confirmed to lead the Pentagon.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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