On George W. Bush: The 'Decider' Who Didn't Decide?

By James Fallows

No real-world human being brings to the U.S. presidency the range of attributes necessary for full success in the job. In principle a president should be great at: formal oratory before vast audiences; informal persuasiveness in small groups; high-speed fact-absorption and analytical intelligence; slow-paced,  unhurried deliberation; understanding both the past and the future; exercising both IQ and EQ; delegating duties; maintaining physical and emotional stamina; knowing and managing his or her own impulses; and on through a nearly infinite list. No one has all these skills. Therefore the best we can expect from the real people who hold the job is that they recognize their limits and try to address or offset them.

Yesterday I argued that George W. Bush's combination of traits was particularly unfortunate for the choices he had to make in the 18 months between the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq. Joseph Britt of Wisconsin, who has worked as an aide to a Republican U.S. senator, writes about one of the attributes I mentioned -- Bush's apparent desire to be decisive even in areas about which he was not deeply informed:

Per your observations on G. W. Bush's decisiveness, I wonder if you have ever noted an interesting contradiction in the Bush administration's record.

No American President, with the possible exceptions of those who faced civil (Lincoln) or global (Franklin Roosevelt) war, ever made claims for Presidential authority and prerogatives as sweeping as the last President Bush did.  Yet in practice, Bush yielded more Presidential authority to selected subordinates than any President since Wilson had his stroke.

The war on terrorism was effectively run by Vice President Cheney after 9/11.  Both Bush's Secretaries of Defense were left all but unsupervised with respect to war policy -- apart from the Bremer period in Iraq, when Bush gave the former ambassador a free hand to make decisions no one else wanted to make.  Perhaps most striking of all was Bush's unqualified delegation of executive power to his Treasury Secretary at the end of his tenure.  We might with justice refer to most of 2008 as the time of the Paulson administration.

For all the airs he put on as "The Decider," Bush was in many respects an extraordinarily weak President.  The ignorance and intellectual laziness you spoke of often drove his decisiveness toward finding someone else to make decisions.

Context for this discussion and some upcoming items in the queue: not Bush himself, who has been admirably low-profile since leaving office, but our general understanding of the wars America launched 10 years ago this month.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/03/on-george-w-bush-the-decider-who-didnt-decide/273785/