Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Strategery: Or How Bush Keeps Surprising
AndrewSullivan.com ^ | 11/18/01 | Andrew Sullivan

Posted on 11/19/2001 9:49:20 AM PST by Jean S

With amazing swiftness and surprising finality, the enemy, once thought tenacious, caved last week. I refer not to the Taliban but to the chattering classes - especially its left-liberal sections. Never before in the field of human conflict have so many armchair generals been exposed as such idiots in such a short period of time. They will not learn, of course. The Guardian and the BBC will move on - with barely a time for taking breath - to yet another negativist attack on the naïve president and his gung-ho aides. But the sudden turn in the war surely suggests that another reasssessment is now due: not simply of the war but of the style and substance of George W. Bush's presidency.

Simply put: the success of this war so far is incompatible with the image of the president so beloved of the press corps in America and Britain. Let's take the now teetering cliches one by one. First, the notion that Bush is a unilateralist cowboy; that he shoots from the hip and knows nothing about diplomacy. Everything since September 11 shows the contrary. There was no sudden lashing out. There was an elaborate attempt to build a coalition. There was a slow and steady build-up of forces, and a carefully orchestrated rhetorical message for domestic and foreign consumption. The critical allies in this were somewhat unlikely ones for a Texas cowboy: a New Labour prime minister, a Pakistani dictator, a Russian president. Yet each piece was carefully assembled, and manipulated for maximum effect. If this is what cowboys do, then the Wild West is a deeply civilized place.

The second cliché is that Bush is a man essentially controlled by his aides - a puppet wihtout his own ideas, agenda or strategy. Again, there is simply nothing empirically to suggest that this is true. A prince-regent controlled by aides tends to be dominated by a senior figure who actually runs the show. In this case, Dick Cheney was the appointed eminence grise. But Cheney has receded from view these past few weeks. And if you look at Bush's team, you will see that, in fact, it has a variety of wings and interests, each of which can only go to the president for approval. There is Cheney, who remains central, but there is also Powell, whose alleged estrangement from the president is over-blown. So far in this crisis, neither has been neutered. Powell - and his supporters in the National Security Council and the State Department - has clearly had a voice in strategy. It was Powell who cautioned against too heavy a reliance on the Northern Alliance in the last month. Bush agreed. It was Powell who was central to bringing in Pakistani president Musharraf into the coalition. Bush signed on. It was Powell who went on various diplomatic missions to say soothing things to the various scared Arab dictators. It was Powell and Musharraf who persuaded Bush last weekend to say emphatically that he did not want the Northern Alliance to enter Kabul.

On the other side, you have Cheney's chum Donald Rumsfeld, the indefatigable and hilariously frank secretary of defense. Rumsfeld has been a consistent supporter of decisive military action, of war as an instrument of diplomacy rather than the other way round. His close relationship with Cheney, and his support from Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, give him an important seat at the table. And as the days went by, and diplomacy failed to marshall a new Afgani government in advance of victory, Rumsfeld gained the upper hand. Since the lightning success of the past week, that hand has been strengthened.

But Powell is still in play. The State Department is now warning of the need to ensure that the Northern Alliance plays a "very subordinate role" in any future post-Taliban Afghani government. They are very worried about a destabilization in Pakistan. The Rumsfeldians, on the other hand, are still complaining about the State Department. "What you're seeing now is the same [State Department] handwringing that held up the bombing," a "senior administration official" complained to the hawkish New Republic last week. "The arguments never change."

And who decides between these various camps? The president, of course. This is the first president to have a business degree and he knows what management is. He doesn't regard Colin Powell as a "wet." He regards him as an important part of the hand of cards he has to play. Depending on circumstances, Bush sides with one camp, then the other. He plays these various voices like an expert - and, unlike his father, manages to keep them all inside the tent. He gave diplomacy a chance two weeks ago; and tried micro-managing the war with Powell's help. Then he let slip the dogs of war. In all this, Bush has also been amazingly disciplined - about work, but also rest. Unlike Tony Blair whose workaholism has made him look close to collapse, Bush has delegated deeply, retained his personal space, kept his cool, and prepared himself for a long, long campaign. He's still on the treadmill for up to an hour a day, and gets to bed by 9.30pm. The only thing that is non-negotiable is the destruction of global terrorism.

The third cliché about Bush is that he an ingenue, muddling his way through matters he doesn't understand. Like most cliches, this is partly true. Bush didn't know the name of the Pakistani president a year ago. But the happy corrollary of this is that Bush doesn't come to the table with pre-cooked ideas about the world. He is extremely shrewd and sizes up people and opportunities as they arise. He has a deeply Tory approach to foreign affairs: a sizing up of potential adversaries, a deep awareness of national self-interest, and a constant capacity for improvisation. He had no strong preconceptions, for example, about the role of Russia in the world before he became president. Yet, long before September 11, it was Bush who decided that Vladimir Putin was key to American foreign policy in the new century. He made that decision simply by meeting Putin. Last week's Crawford summit was a further sign of that deep engagement.

At the time, this outreach to Russia seemed a wild gamble, and was frowned on by many conservatives, with long memories and fixed views. After September 11, it seems an intelligent prelude to the most significant geo-political shift of the last two months: Russia's radical move toward the West. And don't think Russia's clash with OPEC last week was purely accidental. As the price of petrol sinks toward $10 a barrel, and the U.S. economy is given a stimulus just when it's needed, Putin knows he is building up credit. And what could be more important for the West's long-term economic and political stability than the development of oil supplies from sources outside the Middle East? Where might those supplies be found? Ah, yes, Russia. It takes an inexperienced but shrewd pragmatist to seize opportunities like these. Freed from too much prior habits of thought, Bush was able to look imaginatively ahead.

And so this deeply pragmatic, fast-learning but determined president now faces the hardest decision of all. That decision is Iraq. Already in Washington, the long jockeying within the administration is intensifying. Right now, most of the focus is rightly on Afghanistan. But the battle over the second phase of the war is about to commence in earnest. There is no doubt that Powell's State Department in alliance with London and Karachi are urging appeasement. But it is equally likely that Paul Wolfowitz, whose role can only be enhanced by last week, will be marshalling the arguments in favor of action, with Rumsfeld and Cheney in cautious support. The only absolute certainty is that one man will make the final decision: the same shrewd, quiet and still-under-estimated figure who has been calling the shots all along. Think of the last man whom Western liberals derided as a cowboy, Ronald Reagan. Or better still, think of the last ingenue president from the middle of nowhere who figured out problems as they came along and ended up shaping the world for generations. Think Truman.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS:
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021 next last

1 posted on 11/19/2001 9:49:22 AM PST by Jean S
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: JeanS
Bush's foreign policy performance has been excellent, surprising friends and foes alike.

I actually have more concern over his domestic political acumen.

2 posted on 11/19/2001 10:02:55 AM PST by white trash redneck
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: JeanS
Excellent analysis by Sullivan...yet again.
3 posted on 11/19/2001 10:04:18 AM PST by SoDak
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: SoDak
A great president profiled by a great columnist.
4 posted on 11/19/2001 10:09:16 AM PST by motexva
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: JeanS
Oh come on, I just heard a Democratic analysis say Bush did nothing special and any idiot could have successfully waged this so-called war on terrorism.
5 posted on 11/19/2001 10:17:31 AM PST by Always Right
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: white trash redneck
Bush is doing just fine on both fronts, foreign and domestic. The dems like to display childish hardball. Bush reminds me of Patton's comment....If you have them by the B...., their hearts and minds will follow. Just take a seat and you will see.
6 posted on 11/19/2001 10:17:45 AM PST by peekaboo
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Always Right
Oh come on, I just heard a Democratic analysis say Bush did nothing special and any idiot could have successfully waged this so-called war on terrorism.

This is the new spin from the Democrat Party talking points memo. I'm hearing it more and more often lately.
7 posted on 11/19/2001 10:23:06 AM PST by Azzurri
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: JeanS
bttt
8 posted on 11/19/2001 10:23:41 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: JeanS
Just for once I'd like to see all the "pundits" focus on the good, instead of the supposed bad that they conjour up.

Just for once I'd like to see all the "pundits" be thankful for the excellence of our President instead of thinking a compliment will lower their credibility.

Just for once I'd like to see all the "pundits" declare that the man in charge is doing a great job and that because of their limited knowledge they have nothing to say other than that we must support our President.

Alas, it will never happen, even at this precious week of Thanksgiving, even when the pundits have been once again proven so unmistakenly ignorant, short-sighted, simple-minded and wrong. For as the scriptures declare in Proverbs 27:22, "Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his foolishness will not depart from him."

So therefore, let those of us who know better, focus on the good, giving thanks to God for blessing he has given us of President Bush, and rejoicing in the expectation of future successes.

9 posted on 11/19/2001 10:26:11 AM PST by The Truth Will Make You Free
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: MadIvan
ping
10 posted on 11/19/2001 10:32:25 AM PST by 2Jedismom
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Azzurri; JeanS
They must be getting very frustrated with trying to get the words just right!!!

Watching DERsjerk on CNN whining about Bush's decision on Military Tribunals!

Spare me!

11 posted on 11/19/2001 10:33:27 AM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Ernest_at_the_Beach
CNN is showing a guy from Stratfor.com argueing against Dershojerk!
12 posted on 11/19/2001 10:34:44 AM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: JeanS; OLDWORD
Phil,

As usual, Sullivan's work is creative, sometimes funny, and right on the mark. Little of this can be used on the air, but it is a piece you should read.

Congressman Billybob

13 posted on 11/19/2001 10:36:00 AM PST by Congressman Billybob
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2Jedismom
Good article - in exchange for it, I'd send you some Treacle sponge with custard sauce. ;)

Best Regards, Ivan
14 posted on 11/19/2001 11:14:05 AM PST by MadIvan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: peekaboo
I hope you're right...
15 posted on 11/19/2001 11:51:12 AM PST by white trash redneck
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: JeanS
Thanks for posting a great article by Andrew, again. He's one of the best, most articulate writers around today.

.. you have Cheney's chum Donald Rumsfeld, the indefatigable and hilariously frank secretary of defense. Rumsfeld has been a consistent supporter of decisive military action, of war as an instrument of diplomacy...

President Bush deserves much credit for selecting this man RUMSFELD for THIS job. He's got the moxey and the knowledge. I bet he and Cheney (my two favorite HAWKS) are on the phone constantly, keeping our nation from more harm.

16 posted on 11/19/2001 12:17:37 PM PST by Gracey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Gracey
bump - this is worth reading, folks
17 posted on 11/19/2001 12:27:31 PM PST by Gracey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: Always Right
Oh come on, I just heard a Democratic analysis say Bush did nothing special and any idiot could have successfully waged this so-called war on terrorism.

Well, if it was so easy, why didn't (or couldn't?) Clinton do it? If the left says it is easy, they condemn Clinton to being pretty incompetent, right? Right!!

18 posted on 11/19/2001 11:46:22 PM PST by truth_seeker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Always Right
I just heard a Democratic analysis say Bush did nothing special and any idiot could have successfully waged this so-called war on terrorism.

That's a pretty amazing statement.

I will agree with the Dims that any idiot could have managed that EP-3E incident with China, all Bush did was stay firm and cautious (of course, the Dims criticized Bush during the crisis, but that's because they're mo-rons of the first order, they're stupider than just "any idiot.")

But this situation--it's very different. It's incredibly complex, he's got a few strong allies, a few friends, and a huge number of potential allies/enemies, especially in the Arab world, where we need allies the most. Bush has managed to make friends with Russia, keep China out of the conflict (so far), he's managed to cement ties with England, make France look bad, get Musharraf to play ball, gotten the Northern Alliance to act somewhat civilized, and gotten advisors to lead their ragtag army into battle successfully, to liberate several major cities from the extreme oppression of the Taliban, to give greater rights to the Afghans of both genders, he's eliminated many top Al-Quaeda commanders, he's decimated and assimilated the once-thought-to-be-mighty Taliban--he's even gotten the price of oil to fall while so many of the OPEC countries are filled with rage towards us. That's a pretty big set of achievements, for a "dunce."

19 posted on 11/20/2001 12:00:40 AM PST by xm177e2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: white trash redneck
"I actually have more concern over his domestic political acumen. "

Why do you think anyone cares what you think? This thread isn't about domestic policy.

Your comment adds nothing to the discussion. You offer nothing of any value.

Looking at your past posts, it quickly becomes obvious that you are not familiar with the issues and do not have anything original to contribute.

Come back when you grow up.

20 posted on 11/20/2001 12:23:43 AM PST by bayourod
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual po