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March 28, 2003

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Bush's Wartime Performance Under Scrutiny
President Bush's Wartime Leadership Echoes the Best, Worst of His Predecessors

The Associated Press

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After ordering U.S. military commanders to target Saddam Hussein in the first air strikes of the war, President Bush has given them authority to attack the Iraqi leader again without his prior approval.

Those loose rules of engagement for Saddam are typical of how Bush manages war, aides say: He makes the big political decisions and signs off on grand battlefield strategies, but tries not to meddle in combat tactics.

It's too early to declare how he stacks up against America's wartime presidents, but those who study such things say they already see the lessons learned from several predecessors reflected in Bush's style.

He delegates like Ronald Reagan, dips into details that used to obsess Lyndon Johnson and turns in times of trouble to those who served his father Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

"The trick is to set big goals and make the political decisions and leave it to the military guys to do the shooting because they know what they're doing and civilian leaders don't," said Ken Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"But the line between what a president should and should not do is going to be blurry in some cases," he said. "There is no rule book on how to lead a nation into war."

With history and instinct his only guides, Bush began the nation's march toward Baghdad on March 19 when he approved a broad, flexible strategy and mission for war. He left it up to the military to decide the time and place for the attacks to begin.

But hours later, U.S. intelligence got a rare fix on Saddam's location. The commander in chief decided he couldn't pass up the chance. War couldn't wait.

He ordered the strike on Saddam.

In the week since, Bush has allowed the war's on-scene commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, to make key battlefield decisions, often on a moment's notice, as the military leadership tries to keep pace with events. For example, Franks shifted resources to help seize Iraq's oil fields when the precious assets became vulnerable early in the fight, White House officials said.

Bush, who gets briefed at least twice a day about the war, rarely watched television coverage of the bombing of Iraq.

Aides said Franks, not necessarily Bush, would decide whether to take another shot at Saddam if the chance presented itself. It is Franks, not Bush, who responds to scores of combat scenarios and surprises from bad weather to ambushes from Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians.

Bush sees his job as the war's chief communicator victory will come "no matter how long it takes," he said Thursday. And the biggest decisions are his.

If Turkey decides to deploy troops in northern Iraq, officials said, the president would determine the U.S. response. Denounce the action? Apply economic pressure? Add troops to the region? The president tells advisers what he wants done, and they carry it out.

Who rebuilds Iraq and how it is done are questions left to heads of state. Indeed, the president and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed that issue during their two-day Camp David summit this week but reached no resolution.

They also reviewed military plans. After all, history shows that presidents and prime ministers can't help themselves.

Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill famously pored over maps at the White House during World War II. But the U.S. president and British prime minister worried mostly about the decisions of historic magnitude FDR resolving to concentrate on Germany first, both resolving that the war must end with unconditional surrender.

President Truman inherited the atomic bomb program and used it to conclude the war. Later, in the Korean War, he refused to take the fight to China.

President Lincoln agonized over each telegraph dispatch that spit out word from Gettysburg and other killing fields. He hired and fired generals, demanding that each be more aggressive than the last.

Johnson's micromanaging famously drove him to pick targets in Vietnam.

In the Afghanistan war, Bush's first, the commander in chief got knee-deep in a few tricky details. His wish to get certain things back to normal, including commercial flights back into the air, was premature. He promised to pick off all the terrorist-harboring states one by one; that led him to Saddam's doorstep, but is Iran or North Korea next?

Bush peppers his generals with broad questions about tactics. Do you have what you need to win? Are humanitarian supplies flowing?

The last question is asked at nearly every gathering of the Iraq war council. Aides say it reflects America's altruism, but critics wonder whether Bush's rush to flood Iraq with food, water and medicine part of a broader political strategy to build support at home and abroad could complicate the military mission.

He has ordered his generals to take great care to avoid civilian casualties. That may save lives, but historian John Mueller, who studies wartime presidents at Ohio State University, said the policy is tantamount to picking targets for the military.

"Johnson did no worse," he said.

photo credit and caption:
Presdident Bush waves after arriving back to the White House via Marine One, Thursday, March 27, 2003. With Iraqi troops dug in around Baghdad, President Bush pledged Thursday to battle Saddam Hussein's forces "however long it takes to win." Bush and British war ally Tony Blair said the U.N. should help rebuild Iraq later, though an exact role was left uncertain. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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