Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

”Bush and Kerry: Contrasting Styles with the Same Results”

The failures of Operation Iraqi Freedom have not merely thrown the National Security Strategy into doubt; they have also diminished the influence of the neo-conservative advisers who formulated it. At the present time, the administration lacks a coherent strategic doctrine and there is no current contender for that role. Unless a new strategy is formulated, a second Bush administration would be more prey to making ad hoc adjustments to adversity, retrenching as a rule, but also tempted to abrupt and excessive action if placed under sufficient pressure.

Under the imperative to rebuild American power or retreat further, Bush will be faced with conflicts between factions within his security team and will lack the confidence provided by even an unrealistic vision. The way will be open to decisional paralysis at the extreme and at least half measures in different directions punctuated by confrontational outbursts. Geostrategy in a second Bush administration is a question mark. Its daunting challenge will be to secure stability in Iraq — requiring a continued military commitment — as it rebuilds American power and responds to initiatives from contending powers. If it were unable to achieve those aims, the consequence would be further loss of American power in the world. Bush’s leadership style does not portend success in the project of recovery.


Were Kerry to capture the presidency, he would bring to the office a decisional style that appears to be the opposite of his rival’s. Based on the many reports gathered from interviews with the candidate and his current and former political associates, Kerry focuses mainly on the possible consequences of alternative policies, seeking to gather information on issues from a variety of sources, playing devil’s advocate and taking multiple perspectives on the meaning of the information he receives, and concentrating on worst-case scenarios and trying to anticipate the responses to his initiatives by allies and opponents. Whereas Bush is interested in his vision, Kerry is concerned with applications. Whereas Bush restricts his sources of information, Kerry expands them. Whereas Bush adheres to an ideology, Kerry is pragmatic and accepts established parameters. Whereas Bush is optimistic, Kerry is skeptical.

The terms used to characterize Kerry’s decisional style in press reports are “perfectionist,” “prosecutorial,” “painstaking,” “deliberate,” “diligent,” and “pragmatic.” Each member of this cluster of kindred terms points to a disposition to caution. As a senator, Kerry has been more a follower than a leader, with few major legislative initiatives to his credit. He is most comfortable if all the bases are covered before he makes a move, which causes him to delay making decisions until he has convinced himself that he grasps the safest course of achieving his objectives, whatever they have become in the deliberative process, which can lead to altering aims, if not broad principles.

Kerry’s decisional style is most of all prudent. His concern to anticipate adverse consequences does not result in decisional paralysis, but in hesitation, which he has been able to overcome at critical junctures. Nonetheless, his political associates report downsides to his difficulty in gaining closure. He has reportedly held protracted strategy sessions with his campaign advisers, reached decisions and then altered those decisions when someone else got his ear after the meetings had ended. Kerry sometimes gets buried in details as he attempts to anticipate every possible contingency. When he expresses a position, he often qualifies it with caveats.

The Republican charge that he is a “flip-flopper” does not get at Kerry’s weakness — he is not at the mercy of the winds of doctrine and is not an expedient chameleon: he works within established institutional parameters and a received centrist ideology, normally proceeding with caution and sometimes striking out when he feels pushed into a corner. The problem is that he is often motivated by anxiety and ultimately lacks confidence in his own judgment, despite his earnest efforts to cultivate it.

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