Management Style Shows Weaknesses
Delegation of Responsibility, Trust In Subordinates May Have Hurt Bush
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2004; Page A06
President Bush has long prided himself for focusing on big goals rather than on niggling details and delegating significant responsibility to his aides. But his belated attention to the brutality at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison has revealed vulnerabilities in a management style that had brought him personal and political success.
Bush's aides say the graphic images documenting the abuse of detainees took him by surprise. But as they tell it, the president and his staff received many clues over the past year that there might be a problem -- for example, periodic reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and did nothing because they had been assured the Pentagon was on the case.
A variety of presidential advisers and scholars said the White House's failure to recognize the significance of the warnings points to flaws in Bush's approach to governing that also could have contributed to the administration's inadequate planning and inaccurate presentations in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Fred I. Greenstein, a Princeton University politics professor and author of a text on presidential leadership, said Bush "hews to goals, and has the vision thing in spades," but has "an excessive reliance on subordinates" and "doesn't turn over the rock" to find out what might be waiting to bite him.
Bush, the first president with a master's degree in business administration, has taken pride in his approach to management. "I put a lot of faith and trust in my staff," he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, "A Charge to Keep."
"My job is to set the agenda and tone and framework, to lay out the principles by which we operate and make decisions, and then delegate much of the process to them," Bush wrote, adding that he sees holding people accountable as an essential ingredient.
White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who came to Washington with Bush after serving as his counsel in the Texas governor's office and one of his appointee to the Texas Supreme Court, said it is "contrary to the way this president operates, and I think it's really sort of bad government, to try to micromanage -- particularly the military."
After weeks of research, officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon said they were still unable to supply a specific timeline of what Bush knew, and when, about allegations of systemic problems in military prisons. They have, however, supplied some data about the subject for the first time since an April 28 broadcast by CBS's "60 Minutes II" set off an international furor.
Until that broadcast, officials said, Bush had not been told that photos or videos existed of U.S. soldiers' use of intimidation, humiliation and excessive force. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell "kept the president informed in a general nature about detainee issues that had been raised by the International Committee of the Red Cross," including how long people were detained, how they were processed and how their families were notified.
Powell told reporters that Bush was kept "fully informed" about detainee issues raised by the Red Cross, which were discussed at National Security Council meetings and elsewhere in the president's presence. A State Department official said the administration has been unable to pin down the dates or frequency of the briefings. But the official said Powell's "recollection is he talked to Bush on various occasions in the last year or so about the fact that the ICRC had concerns about the treatment of detainees and prisons at Guantanamo, Afghanistan and then later Iraq."
Aides said Bush was told that the Pentagon was dealing with these allegations and that he accepted those assurances. A presidential adviser who has discussed the crisis with officials in the West Wing said people closest to Bush "feel that the military chain of command let him down." The adviser called that conclusion "a rare point of agreement" among Vice President Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., senior adviser Karl Rove and former counselor Karen Hughes.
McClellan said Bush "wanted to make sure the appropriate people were taking those issues seriously and addressing them."
"In terms of Red Cross issues related to Iraq, it is our understanding that the military was working to address those issues," McClellan said.
In early March, Bush's National Security Council received a 24-page report from the ICRC alleging that detainees at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, had been "made to walk in the corridors handcuffed and naked, or with women's underwear on the head," and were showing "physical marks and psychological symptoms," including incoherent speech and suicidal tendencies, that "appeared to be caused by the methods and duration of interrogation."
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