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Bush and Rumsfeld in Iraq

Beneath the violence of the U.S. war in Iraq was a subterranean conflict between President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, rooted in their different beliefs and leadership styles. Bush was prepared to pay a high cost in American lives, treasure, and prestige to win. Rumsfeld favored turning the war over to the Iraqis, and was comfortable with the risk that Iraq would disintegrate into chaos. Only after Bush removed Rumsfeld in late 2006 did he bring U.S. strategy into line with his goals, sending additional troops to Iraq and committing to continued U.S. involvement. Bush abandoned Rumsfeld’s withdrawal approach, predicated upon the beliefs that “it's the Iraqis’ country,” and “we have to take our hand off the bicycle seat.”

In Leaders in Conflict, Stephen Benedict Dyson shows that Bush and Rumsfeld thought about international politics, and about leadership, in divergent ways. The president embraced binary thinking, was visceral in his commitment to the war, and had a strong belief that the U.S. both could and should shape events in Iraq. The secretary saw the world as complex, and was skeptical of the extent of U.S. influence over events and of the moral imperative to stay involved.

The book is based upon more than two dozen interviews with administration insiders, and appeals to those interested in the U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. presidency, leadership and wartime decision making.

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Leadership and foreign policy

Why did Tony Blair take Britain to war with Iraq? Because, this book argues, he was following the core political beliefs and style—the Blair identity—manifest and consistent throughout his decade in power. Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and finally Iraq were wars to which Blair was drawn due to his black-and-white framing of the world, his overwhelming confidence that he could shape events, and his tightly-held, presidential style of government. This new application of political psychology to the British prime ministership analyses every answer Blair gave to a foreign policy question in the House of Commons during his decade in power in order to develop a portrait of the prime minister as decision maker. Drawing upon original interviews with major political, diplomatic and military figures at the top of British politics, the book reconstructs Blair's wars, tracing his personal influence on British foreign policy and international politics during his tumultuous tenure.

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Stephen Benedict Dyson

When George W. Bush fired Donald H. Rumsfeld in November 2006 he ended a conflict. Not the Iraq war, which would go on for several more years, but a war about the war, fought in the shadows and engaged largely through inaction, the fudging of differences, and misdirection rather than open hostilities. In Iraq, the president was prepared to pay a high cost in American lives, treasure, and prestige to win. The secretary of defense favored turning the war over to the Iraqis, and was comfortable with the risk that Iraq would disintegrate into chaos.

in Leaders in conflict
Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter answers the questions: when and how do leaders matter in shaping a state’s foreign policy? Which dimensions of leadership are important? The chapter then offers a portrait of Bush and Rumsfeld as leaders, utilizing multiple sources of evidence to understand their worldviews and management styles.

in Leaders in conflict
Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter analyzes Bush’s instant responses to 9/11, as he made the fundamental decision that the U.S. would engage in a war on terror. The chapter then traces the development of the key principles of the Bush doctrine, and examines to what degree these were the president’s original ideas and to what degree Bush adopted the pre-existing views of neo-conservatives in his administration. It then considers other strategic responses – realist, liberal internationalist, isolationist – that Bush could have chosen and shows how they were inconsistent with his temperament. Finally, the chapter considers Secretary Rumsfeld’s response to 9/11, thereby tracing the beginnings of the divergence in ideas between the president and the secretary of defense.

in Leaders in conflict
Stephen Benedict Dyson

Considered in isolation from what came later, the invasion plan for Iraq was daring in conception, achieved its goals with stunning speed and at low cost, and represented a sparkling advertisement for Rumsfeld’s vision of a light, fast army. Planning saw close interaction between Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks, showing the positive potential of Rumsfeld’s leadership style. The secretary was insistent, questioning, and effective in shaping a plan that married Franks’ war-fighting expertise with the goals of the civilian Pentagon leadership. Instead of crumpling before Rumsfeld or ignoring him, Franks took the secretary’s incessant questioning as a positive cue, and together they fashioned an effective product. The positive impact of Rumsfeld on the invasion plan serves as a useful reminder that studies of controversial leaders should take account of the upside, as well as the downside, of each worldview and decision style.

in Leaders in conflict
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Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter addresses planning for the political elements of the postwar situation. The issue of what to do about post-Saddam governance should have been of preeminent importance to both Bush and Rumsfeld. It bore directly upon their respective goals for Iraq. Yet both men gave only intermittent attention to the planning process, and managed the implementation phase so lightly that the preferences of their chosen agent in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, became as relevant as those of the president and the secretary of defense.

in Leaders in conflict
Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter addresses the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under the leadership of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. The CPA was characterized by confusion over objectives and organization of a kind that Rumsfeld usually found intolerable. It had an ambiguous mandate, an odd relationship with the military, and multiple lines of reporting back to Washington. This led to the confusion that the secretary usually considered to be the result of faulty underlying assumptions. CPA was also profoundly under-resourced. Bush should have recognized and rectified this as CPA was the instrument for shaping postwar Iraqi politics, but his delegatory style was once more apparent.

in Leaders in conflict
Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter covers Iraq policy from June 2004 until mid-2006 from the standpoint of security and of politics, analyzing Bush and Rumsfeld’s conceptions of what was necessary and the conflict between these two visions. Paradoxically, Bush and Rumsfeld’s worldviews led them to very different conclusions as to what was required, but their styles meant that they did not have a direct debate about these differences. The puzzling U.S. behavior during this period – describing Iraq as central to the war on terror and the spread of democracy, yet simultaneously drawing down forces and planning to leave – is revealed here as a product of the conflict between the visions of Bush and Rumsfeld.

in Leaders in conflict
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Stephen Benedict Dyson

This chapter analyzes Bush’s decision to surge additional troops to Iraq and to remove Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. In making the decision to surge, Bush defied the advice of Rumsfeld, the will of Congress, and the tide of public opinion. His decision was rooted in his personal characteristics. Bush conceptualized the situation in Iraq in stark winning / losing terms, and was unwilling to accept a compromise solution. His history maker temperament disposed him to believe that the troop surge could work, in stark contrast to much of the advice he received. His cheerleading interpersonal style led him to a positive relationship with the new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whom he backed almost without reservation, again in contrast to advice he received from others concerning Maliki’s effectiveness and trustworthiness.

in Leaders in conflict