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January 15, 2009

Woodward Slams Bush's Errors in Leadership

I don't believe everything this guy says, of course. Not only does he have a bias, but everyone he interviews has an axe to grind. Especially Colin Powell, who earned three of his stars simply by kissing ass and resume-padding.

But -- a lot of this jibes with my own understanding of Bush as a frequently disengaged and often weak and passive leader.

1. Presidents set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions.

In the fall of 2002, Bush personally witnessed a startling face-off between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the White House Situation Room after Rumsfeld had briefed the National Security Council on the Iraq war plan. Rice wanted to hold onto a copy of the Pentagon briefing slides, code-named Polo Step. "You won't be needing that," Rumsfeld said, reaching across the table and snatching the Top Secret packet away from Rice -- in front of the president. "I'll let you two work it out," Bush said, then turned and walked out. Rice had to send an aide to the Pentagon to get a bootlegged copy from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bush should never have put up with Rumsfeld's power play. Instead of a team of rivals, Bush wound up with a team of back-stabbers with long-running, poisonous disagreements about foreign policy fundamentals.

2. The president must insist that everyone speak out loud in front of the others, even -- or especially -- when there are vehement disagreements.

During the same critical period, Vice President Cheney was urging Secretary of State Colin Powell to consider seriously the possibility that Iraq might be connected to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Powell found the case worse than ridiculous and scornfully concluded that Cheney had what Powell termed a "fever." (In private, Powell used to call the Pentagon policy shop run by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, who shared Cheney's burning interest in supposed ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, a "Gestapo office.")

Powell was right that to conclude that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden did not work together. But Cheney and Powell did not have this crucial debate in front of the president -- even though such a discussion might have undermined one key reason for war. Cheney provided private advice to the president, but he was rarely asked to argue with others and test his case. After the invasion, Cheney had a celebratory dinner with some aides and friends. "Colin always had major reservations about what we were trying to do," Cheney told the group as they toasted Bush and laughed at Powell. This sort of derision undermined the administration's unity of purpose -- and suggests the nasty tone that can emerge when open debate is stifled by long-running feuds and personal hostility.

...

10. The president should embrace transparency. Some version of the behind-the-scenes story of what happened in his White House will always make it out to the public -- and everyone will be better off if that version is as accurate as possible.

On March 8, 2008, Hadley made an extraordinary remark about how difficult it has proven to understand the real way Bush made decisions. "He will talk with great authority and assertiveness," Hadley said. " 'This is what we're going to do.' And he won't mean it. Because he will not have gone through the considered process where he finally is prepared to say, 'I've decided.' And if you write all those things down and historians get them, [they] say, 'Well, he decided on this day to do such and such.' It's not true. It's not history. It's a fact, but it's a misleading fact."


Bush always seemed to me to be determined to be the anti-Clinton. Where Clinton frequently came to the public to ask for support and malign his opponents (that would be you), Bush had the notion that people didn't want to hear so much about politics, and so he would not trouble us with them very often.

He's right-- we don't want to hear about these disputes. But we need to.

This impulse led to a Reign-not-Rule style of governance, as used to be said of the British kings -- reign, showing a firm hand at the top, without using that hand to actually rule. Except in the most pressing cases (such as after 9/11), he followed this sort of above-the-fray style, which led many of us to cry out in exasperation "Why doesn't he defend himself, or attack the Democrats, for once?!!?"

He also seems to have followed this scheme in managing his own advisors and officials. Staying above it, letting things work themselves out.

That's not a good style, I don't think.

One can doubt Woodward all one likes, but one can't ignore the fact he never vetoed anything (until the last couple of years) and never fired anyone important.

Those are marks of someone passively allowing things to "work themselves out" rather than actively getting involved and working them out himself.


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posted by Ace at 04:25 PM

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