The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas, and the War on Terror

The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas, and the War on Terror

The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas, and the War on Terror

The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas, and the War on Terror

Synopsis

Foreign policy success or failure is often attributed to the role of leadership. This volume explores the relationship between President George W. Bush's leadership, the administration's stated belief in the power of ideas (and the ideas of power) and its approach to the war on terror. Drawing on the international expertise of ten American foreign policy and security specialists, this incisive and timely book combines theoretical perspectives on political leadership with rigorous empirical analysis of selected aspects of the Bush administration's post 9/11 foreign policy. As a result, this book sheds considerable light not just on the limited impact of President Bush's war on terror strategy, but also, more importantly, on why key ideas underpinning the strategy, such as US global primacy and pre-emptive war, largely failed to gel in a globalizing world.

Excerpt

Among the many issues confronting US foreign policy decision-making, the challenge of leadership stands out. Political leadership is a key feature of all government and governance. Foreign policy failure is often attributed to weak or incompetent leadership, while success is frequently linked to effective or strong leadership (Masciulli, Molchanov and Knight 2009). In complex, industrialized societies like the US where leaders sit at the top of large bureaucratic organizations, they reason, it is wrong to personalize policy-making when the process involves so many players. According to this logic, presidents and their political appointees come and go in Washington, but the career public servants that comprise the federal administration remain in place and therefore frame the essential parameters of foreign policy. However, while organizational support is important for decisionmaking in highly developed societies like the US, we believe it would be wrong to exaggerate the bureaucratic captivity of political leaders.

Political leadership helps “to account for significant differences across and within individual nation states” (Masciulli, Molchanov and Knight 2009: 3) in relation to foreign policy and international events. This is particularly true during times of war and peace. One US president, John F. Kennedy, confronted with a phalanx of hawkish advisers in November 1961, rejected their advice to send combat troops to Vietnam and thus chose not to lead his nation into a disastrous war. Two other presidents, Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, faced with a similar degree of hawkish unanimity among their advisers in 1965 and 2003 respectively, chose differently, and led the US into catastrophic wars in both cases (Blight, Lang and Welch 2009: 265–266). So leaders can and do make a real difference in foreign policy decision-making, but they do so within certain constraints. The impact of leaders will depend, amongst other things, on how well they “diagnose problems situations for their political communities, what responses they prescribe for meeting them, and how well they mobilize the political community’s support for their decisions” (Nye 2008: 9). At the same time, when it comes to foreign policy, political leaders are concerned with matters over which their control is distinctly limited and in which their knowledge is rarely adequate. In this vein, Karl Marx aptly observed: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it . . .

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