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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Glimpse inside President Bush's decision on the "Surge" or the real "3 am call"

To set the stage, first see the 12JUL07 Press Conference by the President on the counterinsurgency "Surge".

Then, via the always excellent Small Wars Journal, see Troop ‘Surge’ Took Place Amid Doubt and Debate by NY Times reporter Michael Gordon. The article is a fascinating look inside the sharp debates, disagreements, and decision-making process that led to the present COIN strategy in Iraq.

In the same vein, also see Bush's Lonely Decision, the Wall Street Journal review of Bob Woodward's The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. Excerpts from Woodward's book are serialized at the Washington Post: part 1, part 2, part 3. (h/t)

My biggest criticism of President Bush has been his reliance on delegating, which is not necessarily a poor leadership style, but in a war demanding evolutionary institutional changes, we've needed a President more like FDR who was more of a micro-manager.

Excerpt from the Gordon article:
But Mr. Bush’s penchant to defer to commanders in the field and to a powerful defense secretary delayed the development of a new approach until conditions in Iraq, in the words of a November 2006 analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency, resembled anarchy and “civil war.”
In this case, his penchant for delegating was near-disastrous, but when the crisis point was reached, he did take the necessary action. For the most part, President Bush is made out in the Gordon article to be a competent, committed leader who made a tough choice from among a set of strongly held diverging 'expert' views.

President Bush is often maligned as a bumpkin whose strings are pulled by a neo-con cabal, a view reinforced by his less-than-stately public demeanor. Even viewed sympathetically, I believe Bush could have - should have - made the call for the COIN "Surge" sooner had he been more of a micro-manager rather than a delegator.

However, the Gordon article and Woodward's book show President Bush chose a risky course of action under great pressure to do otherwise, with great deliberation, and so far at least, the course of action has been the correct one. In fact, the group that included GEN David Petraeus and advocated for the course of action that President Bush eventually chose - over the proposals of commanders in Iraq and top military and administration officials - does not seem like it was the most influential faction in the debate.

The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign featured an ad touting her as better qualified than Barack Obama to answer the "3 am call" and make a tough decision with far-reaching international implications. President Bush made his "3 am call" decision with the COIN "Surge".

How will Senator Obama or even Senator McCain fare when they face such an enormous decision without a clearly correct answer, when a decision must be made, when different factions are calling for radically different courses of action? Can either of them be as (eventually) decisive, committed to mission success, and deliberate as President Bush? As much as President Bush is degraded today by popular political culture, I would not be surprised if historians with access to now-classified records treat him much more kindly. Bush's decision for the counterinsurgency "Surge" is an exemplar of resolute principled American presidential leadership.

Add: George W. Bush is smarter than you and Bush ended financial crisis before Obama took office -- three important truths about 2008 by Bush senior economic advisor Keith Hennessey.

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