Tuesday, September 02, 2008

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

Via the always excellent Small Wars Journal, here is a fascinating look by NY Times reporter Michael Gordon, Troop ‘Surge’ Took Place Amid Doubt and Debate, inside the sharp debates, disagreements, and decision-making process that led to the present COIN strategy in Iraq. 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: "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 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 shows 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 group in the debate.

The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign featured an ad touting her as better qualified than 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.

Eric

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