In his guest-post below, Clark Judge Refers to Fred Barnes’ new article on how the surge came to be, “How Bush Decided On The Surge.” It is riveting reading, and underscores how Bush’s resolve on victory carried forward by the American military was the key to the turnaround in Iraq.
Like Truman, Bush will leave office with loud, angry critics hurling invective at him and his record. But historians won’t be waiting thirty years to reassess the importance and success of his presidency. That turnaround has already begun.
The article underscores, though, the perilous transition ahead. The next president will be another wartime Commander-in-Chief, which requires a rare combination of capacity and humility, a willingness to listen and an ability to act with resolution even against overwhelming partisan opposition and fractured public opinion. Here’s one example of Bush consulting his critics:
To stimulate fresh consideration of Iraq strategy, the NSC staff organized a panel of experts to address the president and his war cabinet at Camp David in mid-June. The two-day meeting at the presidential retreat loomed as a potential turning point in the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq.
The four-man panel wasn’t stacked. Kagan spoke in favor of additional troops and outlined his plan for pacifying Baghdad with a “clear, hold, and build” strategy. American soldiers, along with Iraqi troops, would do the holding, living in Baghdad and guarding its citizens, Sunni and Shia alike. Robert Kaplan, the foreign correspondent and military writer now teaching at the Naval Academy, talked about successful counterinsurgency campaigns in the past. (Kaplan’s books are among Bush’s favorites.) Kaplan neither advocated a troop buildup nor opposed it.
Countering Kagan, Michael Vickers, a former Green Beret and CIA operations officer, explained how Iraq could actually be won with fewer troops, not more. Vickers is now an assistant secretary of defense. The fourth panelist was Eliot Cohen, now a State Department adviser. Bush had read his book on wartime leadership, Supreme Command. Cohen reemphasized its theme: Leaders should hold their generals accountable if a war is being lost or won.
Bush’s reaction to the panel offered no hint of his thinking. After the first day’s session, he secretly flew to Iraq to attend the inauguration of Maliki’s government. Bush’s advisers, still at Camp David and expecting to see him in person, were surprised when he spoke to them by teleconference from Baghdad.
Read the whole article. No matter who succeeds Bush, they will have a lot to learn from his example of wartime leadership.