Revolution and war in the Middle East, France and the US

This prize will help me launch two research projects, one on the development of the American war doctrine, and the other on the historical correlation between conscription and democracy. In the first project, I hope to examine the social basis of the American war doctrine from Truman to Obama. Because long and expensive military campaigns are politically taxing, postwar presidents turned to technology to limit the involvement of citizens and their elected representatives. Waging war with minimum material and human costs frees presidents from social control. I claim that nuclear shadow wars (1960s), surgical air strikes (1990s), and drone warfare (present) could be understood in this context. But as Clausewitz, the ablest student of war, concluded: war is both volatile and inherently violent. It often spirals out of control. This certainly proved to be the case in Vietnam and Iraq.

The goal of my research here is to establish the accuracy of this pattern through a comparative historical investigation of three particular cycles, what I refer to as War as Chess, exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), and undermined by the losses in Vietnam (1960s); War as Surgery, exemplified by the lightening campaign in Iraq (1991), and undermined by the Iraqi insurgency (2000s); War as Assassination, exemplified by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden (2011), and undermined by the messy campaign against ISIL (present).

In the second research project, I investigate the role of conscription in establishing democracy. Previous sociologists prioritised cultural and socioeconomic preconditions. And a few highlighted how war-related tax-collection forced rulers to expand democratic representation. But my aim is to test how society’s active involvement in war reverberates back home, undermining authoritarian rule. France and Egypt are the paradigmatic cases. Enlisting French citizens (rather than relying on feudal levies, auxiliaries, mercenaries, or professional soldiers) in frequent campaigns in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries enabled a series of destabilising revolts that secured democracy piecemeal. In contrast, replacing Egyptian troops with foreign slave-warriors in the thirteenth century foreshadowed the long Mamluk autocracy, which set the tone of politics in Egypt until the nineteenth century. If successful, this project will not only contribute to the literature on democratisation, but will also answer the perennial question: ‘What went wrong’ in the Muslim world?

Dr Hazem Kandil
University of Cambridge