New book examines how political leaders 'sell' war to the public

Michael Butler, associate professor of political science, has long been preoccupied with the question of “why we fight” and how America’s political leaders justify going to war with other countries; he shares his thinking on this question  in his recent book “Selling a 'Just' War: Framing, Legitimacy, and US Military Intervention” (Palgrave Macmillan 2012).

“The decision to go to war, as well as the rationales affixed to those decisions after they are made, cannot be divorced from the larger political, social, and cultural context that spawn them.  It is from that simple yet powerful realization that the question of how U.S. foreign policy decision-makers ‘sell’ the decision to go to war to the domestic audience came to occupy much of my attention in recent years,” said professor Butler.

Professor Butler said his preoccupation grew as he bore witness to the undertaking and justification of several major military operations by the U.S. in “real time” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya while conceiving, researching, and writing his book.

In his book, professor Butler uses Just War theory to analyze how the decision to go to war was framed for public consumption in three recent U.S. military interventions: the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. He shows how presenting operations as legitimate and virtuous has proven to be a highly salient, adaptable, and therefore effective mechanism for manufacturing societal support. This crucial component of statecraft, he says, allows the President to sustain an effective monopoly over war decisions, ensuring the continued primacy of military force in U.S. foreign policy.

This book is contemporary in focus, and is designed to appeal to readers with an interest in war, justice, or the efforts of America’s leaders to attempt to wed the two in service of U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Professor Butler is also the author of “International Conflict Management” (Routledge 2009).

Professor Butler joined the faculty at Clark in the fall of 2006.  He has received a Hodgkins Junior Faculty Award and was recognized last fall as the Outstanding Teacher of the Year and the Outstanding Advisor of the Year.