"A Dangerous Alienation: Citizen vs. Soldier": Update

March 31, 2006
A Dangerous Alienation: Citizen vs. Soldier

Six years ago, Peter Feaver, Alexander F. Hehmeyer Professor of political science and public policy, was busy researching "the civilian-military gap," the cultural divide between civilians and military officers and personnel.

In 2001, the study yielded a book, Soldiers and Civilians. Three years later, Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, an associate professor of political science at Duke, wrote Choosing Your Battles, a second volume more narrowly focused on military and civilian attitudes toward the use of military force.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the research was a chapter that cited survey data suggesting the public would accept casualties during a military conflict, as long as ultimate success seemed likely. "It captured more interest than the other stuff," among scholars, military officers, and politicians alike, Gelpi says.

The two briefed the Bush and Kerry teams on the findings of their research during the 2004 presidential campaign and drafted a new book manuscript and two articles co-authored with graduate student Jason Reifler A.M. '02.

In June, Feaver, who had worked for the National Security Council in 1993 and 1994, was tapped for a second stint--this time as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform. In November, President George W. Bush delivered a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in which he famously used the word "victory" fifteen times.

A thirty-five-page document, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," released by the White House the same day, originated with Feaver, according to The New York Times. Although the extent of his input into the final draft could not be determined, The Times drew a connection between the president's rhetoric and Feaver's research into public opinion on success and casualties. (Feaver says the report was the product of a collaborative effort between NSC staffers and officials in various agencies.)

Gelpi, a Democrat, says that the document and several concurrent Bush speeches demonstrate "elements that are consistent with our research." For instance, "the focus on specific benchmarks and the more candid appraisal of what has gone right and what has gone wrong." However, "Neither Peter nor I interpret our research as saying, If you just say 'victory, victory, victory,' the public will support you." In fact, Gelpi says, "I think that our research promotes a careful and thoughtful approach to foreign policy that takes public opinion seriously."

In his current role with the NSC, Feaver, on leave from Duke, is involved in identifying mid- to long-range issues for the administration and developing contingency plans. "It is daunting," he says, "to stay sufficiently abreast of the avalanche of information that crosses my desk, while also preserving the step-back, important-rather-than-urgent perspective that is my explicit mandate." He is involved in drafting most of NSC's strategy documents, including an update to the National Security Strategy document to be released this spring.