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"The Right to Be Right: Civil-Military Relations and the Iraq Surge Decision"

Sgt. John Guerra, 21, from Dallas, Tex., walks with his platoon from the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team during a patrol in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007.
AP Photo

"The Right to Be Right: Civil-Military Relations and the Iraq Surge Decision"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 35, issue 4, pages 87-125

Spring 2011

Author: Peter D. Feaver, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 1985-1987; Editorial Board Member, Quarterly Journal: International Security

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



President George W. Bush’s Iraq surge decision in late 2006 is an interest­ing case for civil-military relations theory, in particular, the debate between professional supremacists and civilian supremacists over how much to defer to the military on decisions during war. The professional supremacists argue that the primary problem for civil-military relations during war is ensur­ing the military an adequate voice and keeping civilians from micromanaging and mismanaging matters. Civilian supremacists, in contrast, argue that the primary problem is ensuring that well-informed civilian strategic guidance is authoritatively directing key decisions, even when the military disagrees with that direction. A close reading of the available evidence—both in published ac­counts and in new, not-for-attribution interviews with the key players—shows that the surge decision vindicates neither camp. If President Bush had fol­lowed the professional supremacists, there would have been no surge because his key military commanders were recommending against that option. If Bush had followed the civilian supremacists to the letter, however, there might have been a revolt of the generals, causing the domestic political props under the surge to collapse. Instead, Bush’s hybrid approach worked better than either ideal type would have.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Feaver, Peter D. "The Right to Be Right: Civil-Military Relations and the Iraq Surge Decision." International Security 35, no. 4 (Spring 2011): 87-125.

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