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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Steven Pearlstein

Steven Pearlstein

Steve Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist for The Washington Post and co-host of washingtonpost.com's "On Leadership" forum.

Two Good Traits

Others will no doubt point out the leadership flaws of the outgoing president--the stunning lack of curiosity, the inability to connect personally and credibly with the public, the ideological blinders that prevented him from seeing the world as it really was, the over-emphasis on delegation and the unwillingness to get personally involved in important matters or to take responsibility for failure.

Let me suggest, however, two Bush traits that are to be admired.

Historians tend to give Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, our greatest wartime leaders, high marks for their willingness to "stay the course" at times when military operations were not going well or when the war, or the prospect of war, was unpopular with the public. George Bush is no hardly in their league. But he does deserve credit for his constancy in the Iraq war effort, refusing to retreat when things were going badly, embracing a new strategy and seeing it through to a more acceptable (if not totally satisfactory) conclusion.

Those of us who opposed the war from the beginning need to acknowledge that the long-term damage from an overly-hasty retreat could have been quite substantial, both in terms of our international standing and the morale of the armed forces. Bush's patience and willingness to find another strategy, irrespective of its impact on his popularity, are both hallmarks of good presidential leadership.

Obviously, the result is not the kind of victory or transformation of the Middle East the administration originally promised or envisioned. But it will make it possible for the new president to effectuate an orderly withdrawal that does not leave the world wondering if the world's major superpower has the political will to finish what it starts.

In the last year, in response to the financial crisis and the loss of control of both houses of Congress, Bush has also shown a capacity to grow and adapt that I didn't think he had. The administration's response was a bit tardy, and at times begrudging, but in the end it was forceful and flexible and utterly in violation of some of the president's most cherished free-market principles. Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke and their teams deserve the credit for designing the response that helped to avoid a disastrous financial meltdown. But to his credit, the President was willing to give them the room to maneuver and provided them whatever political cover he could, given his unpopularity with the public and politicians of his own party.

By Steven Pearlstein

 |  January 6, 2009; 10:36 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Stubborn -- Or Courageous? | Next: Optimism, Persistence and Loyalty


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I find your comments mr. Pearlstein truly amazing. Why is necessary for you to provide your own odd, goofey spin to the Bush presidency instead of presenting a more honest portrayal of how it truly impacted our country and the world. You are indeed in the minority. Perhaps you are right and every one else out there has it wrong. Really, to even suggest that Mr. Bush somehow grew in office is absolutely absurd. Just curious: What information do you have, that appears to elude everyone else?

Posted by: cericola01 | January 17, 2009 7:21 PM
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Seriously, smart people were saying before we invaded Iraq that we needed more troops. Smart people were saying after we invaded Iraq that we needed more troops. 4 years later after all the smart people got tired of saying we needed more troops, GWB decides we need more troops. The "surge" was not his idea, and doing it was no more masculine than launching this budget buster in the first place. If I can recall correctly, I believe the opposition was mainly saying, "dude, you've screwed up royally for 4 years in a place we shouldn't be, spending loads of taxpayer money; why should we trust you now?"

I think most of us can agree that the wars for independence, the union of the states, and against Hitler were good wars. Toppling a has been dictator (of which there are too many to count) in the middle of a necessary war in Afghanistan with too few troops was simply not smart.

It is exactly this stubbornness that you speak of so highly that led Bush to not send enough troops, not check his facts (remember he had inspectors on the ground for 6 months after the NIE was compiled, so he knew there were no WMDs in Iraq when he gave the attack orders), and not to react to events on the ground during the first 4 years of the war.

As for his decision to push his free-market principles aside for a moment and let adults deal with the financial crisis, my only wonder is whether he still believes that unbridled capitalism is still the "true" economic model. If it is, why did he give up, and if it isn't why hasn't he come out to proclaim his reformation?

I'm sure he's a nice guy, blah, blah, blah, or that he's great to have a beer with, blah, blah, blah, but these are personality traits that have nothing to do with his performance/accomplishments as President. You have the data, go check for yourself, and I'll let that speak for itself.

Posted by: dynamo2000 | January 6, 2009 5:21 PM
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