Best Defense

Comparing Bush’s surge to Obama’s

Yesterday Viola Gienger, a smart reporter at Bloomberg, asked me to compare President Bush’s decision to surge in Iraq to President Obama’s current deliberations. This is my response: The biggest difference that strikes me is chronological. Bush ran the Iraq war one way for about three years. Then, in November 2006, the big Republican losses ...

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Yesterday Viola Gienger, a smart reporter at Bloomberg, asked me to compare President Bush’s decision to surge in Iraq to President Obama’s current deliberations. This is my response:

The biggest difference that strikes me is chronological. Bush ran the Iraq war one way for about three years. Then, in November 2006, the big Republican losses in the mid-term elections gave the White House a sense of urgency to take a different approach. In the following weeks, Bush not only adopted a new strategy, he got a whole new chain of command in place — a new secretary of defense, a new Central Commander, a new commander in Iraq, and a new ambassador there too. (And six months later, a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs.)

Obama has had less time in office. And he appears to have less time to make the decision. It took about five weeks from the Nov. 2006 elections to Bush’s adoption of a new strategy. I think Obama will be lucky to have that long.

Second, when Bush endorsed the surge, he was rejecting the advice of almost all his military advisors. By contrast, if Obama goes for a troop escalation, he will be embracing the recommendations of his generals.

Third, for Bush, going with the surge required from him almost a change in personality — for the better. I think that for several years, he had been cheerleader in chief. In December 2006, he finally became commander-in-chief, asking tough questions of his generals and exploring the differences in opinion. I don’t think Obama will have to undergo such a change in making this decision. But he will have to embrace being a war president, which lately he has seemed kind of ambivalent about.

Gary Fabiano-Pool/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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