Skip to main content
No Access

You and Whose Army? How Civilian Leaders Leverage the Military’s Prestige to Shape Public Opinion

How does the military’s popularity influence leaders’ domestic leeway in foreign policy? We argue that leaders have strategic incentives to publicly leverage military prestige because doing so builds support and deflects blame for decisions regarding military force. Rather than shifting power toward the military, these references primarily empower leaders. At the individual level, a survey experiment varies the identity of presidential advisors and the outcomes of a foreign policy decision. References to military advisors increase approval for both action and inaction and insulate leaders from the costs of failure. At the elite level, we analyze presidential speeches to show that leaders reference military elites more when discussing negative issues in foreign policy and less when discussing positive issues. A detailed analysis of speeches surrounding the 2007 Iraq troop surge further supports our expectations. Leaders act upon incentives to politicize the military to loosen domestic constraints on foreign policy.