Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Confusion on the Way to Damascus

In the often promoted but yet not quite published book (and our gated article), David Auerswald and I argue that democracies control their militaries differently, depending on their institutions.  That coalition governments tend to have significant restrictions placed upon their deployments due to bargaining among parties of varying levels of enthusiasm.  When such bargaining fails, the troops do not go.  The good news for the Dave and Steve project is that the UK experience over the past few weeks is pretty much what we had expected to see (lots of caveats to this, of course).

The bad news?  Well, we argue that for Presidential systems, the personality of the President is the most important variable--are they risk averse or acceptant?  Are they more likely to worry about the behavior of the troops or about the outcome of the mission?  The instructive comparison in the book is between French Presidents Chirac and Sarkozy.  They had very different views and then policies on the French effort in Afghanistan despite coming from the same part of the political spectrum.  The bad news is, of course, that the American dynamics today over Syria do not follow our book so closely.  That the Senate is pondering a resolution that would limit the length of the mission to sixty days and then an additional thirty days if the President needs it, and no boots on the ground.  These look a whole lot like the restrictions we discussed in the book.   Oooops.

So, how can we make sense of this?  First, as was said repeatedly during the testimony yesterday, the President may not feel that bound by any restrictions imposed by Congress.  This would be politically costly, of course, but possible.  Second, the President is not especially interested in putting boots on the ground* nor in a long bombing campaign (as far as we can tell), so the resolution may just be giving Obama the mission that he wants.
*To be clear, my standard joke is that Special Operations Forces wear sneakers, so they don't count in the boots on the ground label.  More seriously, it will probably be understand and even shared in briefings that SOF will not be held to these restrictions.  The most obvious case would be if a pilot was shot down, the SOF folks would be doing the rescuing, and no Congress.
Third, um, crap, it turns out that while Presidential and semi-Presidential systems put most of the powers for controlling troops in the field into the hands of the President and those below the commander in chief in the chain of command, significant power can still reside in legislatures.  This bargaining process this week among potential supporters of the mission in Congress certainly involves interactions with the White House in what they are and are not willing to accept.  The basic veto player logic we apply in our book applies here, it just seems to be the case that the Congress has more of a veto now than usual.  This is not that new, in the sense that President Clinton imposed restrictions on the US troops in Bosnia not because Congress sought to impose restrictions but so that no events would arise that would trigger Congress's attention.

The book is in the proofs stage and there is no Syrian case in it, so there is not much we can do now.  But we can figure out in blogs and perhaps subsequent papers what the Syria crisis says about comparative civilian-military relations.

PS H/T to Chris Zorn for this title.

Update: I express more confusion here.


MSS said...

Naturally, I generally agree with your take here. "Presidentialization" of parties and executive-legislative relations is really on display in France and the USA, and "parliamentarization" in the UK, with respect to this case.

I prefer "presidentialization" (i.e. dependence on the preferences of the president) over reference to "personality" of the president. But that may be more quibble than substance.

As for UK, yes, it is of course a coalition. But as far as I can tell, the coalition is not the reason for the rejection of Cameron's preferences. He could not command his own party, of which he is an agent, given parliamentarism.

I can't recall anything in the public record about Clegg and his front-benchers constraining Cameron, and the LibDem defections in the parliamentary vote would not have mattered if the Conservatives had rallied behind their leader.

Steve Saideman said...

Your points on Cameron failing to rally his own party are well taken. One basic assumption we made throughout the book was that parties were mostly single actors. That the Tories could not cooperate here was most surprising.