Much has been made recently of the contrasting decisional styles of American presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. According to the consensus of insider books and press interviews, Bush is a leader of the “C.E.O.” type who dwells on the “big picture,” chooses the side that conforms with that moralized picture and then proceeds with unwavering resolve to adhere to policies that he has been convinced by advisers conform to his vision. Kerry, on the other hand, is reported to be a “consulter” and “deliberator” who entertains multiple perspectives and has no clear big picture, does not choose sides on the basis of a clearly defined ideology and is disposed to shift policies when he is confronted with evidence of their adverse consequences.
Decisional style is the bridge between individual psychology and the power struggle of interests. Although most of politics, particularly at the geostrategic level, can be explained without resort to individual psychology — interests endure and individuals come and go — executives who must mediate and resolve conflicts among powerful interests can affect outcomes decisively. What difference does the contrast between Bush’s and Kerry’s leadership styles make for American geostrategic behavior?
An effective executive decisional style combines characteristics of the styles attributed to Bush and Kerry in a happy medium. The strong rational leader melds a general and realistic vision of national interest with an informed understanding of the policies that are meant to implement it, and joins a firmness of will in executing policy with a willingness to adapt policy to adverse and beneficial outcomes. The executive who is unconcerned with policy and impervious to its effects will end up in thrall to whomever has his ear or will continue to pursue the line of failure. The executive who has no stable vision and lacks resolve will agonize over decisions and make ad hoc adjustments to adverse contingencies. The apparent contrast between Bush’s and Kerry’s decisional styles turns out to be less marked than it seems; either half of the model executive leads to the same result of being at the mercy of contingencies and being forced to back and fill, or to lash out spasmodically.
The consequences of Bush’s decisional style in the sphere of geostrategic behavior are on record in the failures of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the decisive application of the vision of his administration’s National Security Strategy. Assuming a decade-long window of opportunity for the United States to become the protector of a worldwide system of market democracies, that strategy involved securing regime change in “rogue states,” whether peacefully or through preemptive warfare. Iraq was the test case of the regime change policy and it has been a failure because the assumption that Iraqis would welcome American occupation proved unfounded.
Since Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime was toppled in 2003, administration policy toward Iraq has proceeded along the lines of backing and filling — surrender of important cities in the Sunni Triangle (Fallujah and Ramadi) to the insurgency against the occupation, compromise with Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, rushing in a governing authority comprised mostly of unpopular exiled politicians led by Iyad Allawi, and currently insisting that elections for an Iraqi government be held in January of 2005, despite the insurgency — a position that might well be abandoned in another ad hoc retreat.
Throughout the series of tactical retreats, Bush has doggedly stuck to his vision of a democratic Iraq and has continually discounted adverse contingencies, insisting that he will “stay the course,” even as he has countenanced one concession after the other of his initial war aims and the successive policies meant to implement them. The result has been a loss of American power and credibility in the world, providing the opportunity for regional and world powers such as Iran, North Korea, the Franco-German combine, Russia and China to assert their own interests more successfully against those of the United States. American military power has had its limitations revealed and the vision of the National Security Strategy is, for the present, not actionable.