In a review of Tom Ricks’ new book The Gamble, Josh Trevino highlights so-called “transitional figures” who played important roles in the implementation of the Iraq “surge” strategy that helped turn the tide against extremists. “The most surprising — and least discussed — transitional figure in The Gamble is President George W. Bush,” Trevino writes:
It’s no secret that the President was tightly bound to the persons and policies he chose to trust: a sometime virtue that became, in war, too often a flaw. In this light, his decision to support the surge over the record of his own leadership, the advice of his entire uniformed military leadership (excepting [General David] Petraeus himself), and his outgoing Secretary of Defense was a profound departure from expectations. Yet once he did shift course, he adhered to it with the same tenacity with which he pursued his previous strategy. As Ricks notes, it is certainly easy and even right to fault Bush for taking three years to get things right — but he was ahead of the actual leadership of the U.S. armed forces when he did.
Ricks (who is, it should be noted, no Republican) also allows the reader a glimpse into the private conduct of the former President, who comes across as more than the incurious mouthpiece of popular media portrayals. “In these meetings [on Iraq strategy,]” Ricks reports one Army officer saying, “he is masterful — good political insights, good handle on the subject.” Among The Gamble’s many contributions to the history of this era must be a credit to George W. Bush, who got so many things wrong, but got this one big thing right.