Presidential Leadership: The Military Command Decisions of Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush by Gregory Hilton, Armed Forces Radio Network, Part Two, George W. Bush. (This commentary was originally recorded in two 90 second segments. The complete transcript is below).
Welcome back. Earlier today I reviewed some of President Abraham Lincoln’s key command decisions. Similar to Lincoln’s experience, during the first four years of the Iraq war President George W. Bush also deferred to his generals. He went along with all of their recommendations but the situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate.
The promises the military made to Bush never materialized, and domestic opposition to the conflict was becoming widespread. Bush repeatedly said his Iraq commander, General George W. Casey, Jr., “will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there,” but by the Fall of 2006 the President had lost confidence in both Casey and his boss, General John Abizaid.
American casualties were continuing to climb in Iraq. The 2006 elections resulted in a tremendous win for the Democrats and they captured control of both the House and Senate. The major issue in the 2006 campaign was the Iraq war and the pressure on President Bush to pull back was tremendous. Republicans lost 36 seats in the House, and if Bush had campaigned on increasing the number of troops in Iraq the GOP losses would probably have reached 55 seats.
Bush’s approval rating was at rock bottom but he dramatically opposed popular opinion by deciding to increase the number of troops and to implement a new population centric counter insurgency strategy. This is now known as the surge. It included 5 brigades (20,000 troops) and was announced by President Bush on January 7, 2007. The next day the President went to Georgia to meet with the soldiers who would soon be leaving for Iraq.
Behind the scenes the surge was opposed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the top commanders in Iraq. On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Powell said “the surge can not be sustained” because the Army was at the breaking point. Powell claimed a surge had already been tried in Baghdad and had failed.
The opponents also included practically all of our senior military commanders in the Pentagon. In mid-November of 2006, President Bush told General Peter Pace he wanted a new strategy and a significant surge of forces in Iraq. Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, immediately assembled his colleagues to discuss the President’s plan.
The opposition to the Bush proposal included General Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chief of Naval Operations, and General George W. Casey, Jr., the Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq. Schoomaker said a surge would not transform the situation and “our forces are already stretched to the breaking point.” The Army chief said the idea “worried the hell out of him.” Casey felt a civil war was beginning in Iraq and American troops should not be in the middle. Admiral Mullen thought the troops would provoke violence rather than quell it.
General Pace informed the President of the JCS’ adamant opposition, and to quell the anger Bush agreed to a direct meeting at the Pentagon where he could hear the JCS viewpoint. It did not sway him. If a surge was to occur the JCS said it should be limited to two brigades, but Bush insisted on five.
The report of the Iraq Study Group (better known as Baker-Hamilton) was released on December 6, 2006 and called for an immediate “phased withdrawal” of U.S. forces. This would have been a complete reversal of Bush’s plan.
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) agreed with the recommendations and said withdrawals should begin in the Spring of 2007. The new Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), introduced legislation calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal by March of 2008, and said Iraq was “the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country.” Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) called the surge “Folly,” and his colleagues Joe Biden (D-DE) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) were in agreement with him.
All of the withdrawal recommendations were rejected by the President who was continuing to move in the opposite direction. The surge also required major personnel changes.
The first to go was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who resigned under pressure in early December. It was also not possible to have an Iraq Commander opposed to the new policy, and this meant General Casey had to be removed. He was kicked upstairs and succeeded Schoomaker as Army Chief of Staff. Bush then reached well down into the Army ranks to promote the pro-surge General David Petraeus as Casey’s successor in Iraq.
The surge opponents also included Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, Casey’s predecessor as Iraq commander from June 2003 to June 2004. Sanchez called the surge a “desperate” move and said “The best we can do with this flawed approach is to stave off defeat.” He went on to say the United States was “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”
In November of 2005, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the current Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee, introduced a resolution calling for the redeployment of troops from Iraq as soon as practicable. Murtha had the behind the scenes support of General John Abizaid, the Commander of the United States Central Command, from 2003 until March of 2007. In December of 2006, Abizaid told Bush directly that “our forces need to get out of Iraq.” He said a surge would only increase Iraqi dependence on Americans.
David Brooks of “The New York Times” made the best observation of the President’s war leadership:“Bush is an outrageously self-confident man. Well, without that self-confidence he never would have overruled his generals. In fact, when it comes to Iraq, Bush was at his worst when he was humbly deferring to the generals and at his best when he was arrogantly overruling them.”
This is the Armed Forces Radio Network and I am Gregory Hilton in Washington, D.C.