Presidential Judgment and Unpredictable Outcomes
It is with the larger matters of assessing threats and setting strategic direction that we can confidently and appropriately evaluate presidential judgment. We should not blame George W. Bush for the occurrence of 9/11, but we can charge him with bad judgment for misunderstanding and/or twisting the nature of the underlying threat such that it somehow got translated into a problem with Iraq. He, and his most influential advisers, displayed atrocious judgment in initiating a war in Iraq. That war turned out to be such a costly mistake not because of unpredictable, tactical occurrences—and not for any reason having to do with the presence or absence of weapons of mass destruction. It had a very bad and costly outcome for reasons involving the political culture and political demography of Iraq and the limitations of military force. Those reasons were not only knowable but known, to experts inside and outside government, but Bush and his advisers did not avail themselves of that knowledge.