Three Questions with Eliot Cohen
Dr. Eliot Cohen recently visited GMF to discuss his new book, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.
Q: Your book is subtitled “The Limits of Soft Power & the Necessity of Military Force.” What do you think is the role of hard power in addressing our present challenges?
Eliot Cohen: On day one of his presidency, Donald Trump became a wartime Commander in Chief — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war with jihadi organizations, he will be using hard power. But hard power will also be the backdrop against which our diplomacy will play out vis-à-vis China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea — and that's just for starters.
Q: You testified before congress as part of the confirmation hearing for General Mattis, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee he would be “a stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening.” This description runs counter to the nickname, “Mad Dog,” which President Elect Trump frequently uses to describe his nominee. Can you say more about your confidence in General Mattis?
Eliot Cohen: I have known General Mattis for over a decade, including spending several days with him when he commanded First Marine Division outside Ramadi. In all that time, what I saw was a superb combat commander, of course, but also a deeply thoughtful, reflective man, better read than any officer I have ever met. The term "Mad Dog" is misplaced — I have never heard someone in uniform use it, and Mattis himself said at his confirmation hearings that it was given to him by the press. Above all, I know that he is someone who takes rule of law and civilian control of the military with the utmost seriousness. Given who Donald Trump is, he is an excellent pick to be secretary of defense.
Q: You have said rhetoric is crucial to the functioning of a democracy. What is the role of rhetoric in war?
Eliot Cohen: Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speech. Aristotle described it as indispensable to democratic politics, particularly when it comes to war. Mobilizational speech is important, of course: we think of Churchill's rallying cry in June 1940. But no less important is explaining to the American people the kind of wars we are fighting, why they are important, and how they are going.
Eliot Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor and director of the Philip Merrill Center of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he has taught since 1990. From April 2007 to January 2009, he served as Counselor of the Department of State, advising Secretary Condoleezza Rice on a wide range of strategic issues.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.