"A president doesn't get to know his generals. I didn't know that Tommy Franks," who was appointed by Bill Clinton, "was from Midland, Texas," his own hometown. "The key to success is to adhere to the line of authority. It's disruptive if the president is talking to the generals all the time."
Why wasn't the surge strategy adopted immediately? "Once I made up my mind to surge, there were a lot of moving parts. I had to convince people in my own administration, I needed new eyes (a new secretary of defense), I had to get beyond the elections, I had to goose (Iraqi prime minister Nouri) Maliki."
The picture one gets from the book and in the hotel room is of a president who suddenly became much more actively engaged in setting a course in Iraq.
He writes that in June 2006 he set up a sort of Team B in the National Security Council to plan a surge strategy. He also makes brief veiled references to the detailed proposals developed outside the government in the following months by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and retired Gen. Jack Keane.
Bush says that he decided to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in spring 2006, but waited until after the November election and after recruiting Robert Gates. And, he writes, this president who had been reluctant to interact with generals had a recommendation to Gates for the new commander in Iraq: Gen. David Petraeus.
The surge was announced in January 2007, eight or nine months after Bush decided the previous strategy was failing. Bush argues that if he had acted more quickly, there would have been divisions in the government that would have led Congress to cut off war funding.
"The strategic consequences of defeat would have been horrific," Bush says. "Embolden Iran -- shudders through the Mideast -- al-Qaida triumphant." But now he's optimistic about Iraq and about democracy in the region.
As the sun pours in, it's hard not to shiver at how narrowly we avoided disaster and achieved success.
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