In his role as commander-in-chief, President Bush is exercising a management style he once described as somewhere between Jimmy Carter's micromanagement and Ronald Reagan's detachment, setting a public tone of neither crisis nor overconfidence and allowing the military to run the war.

White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu said Bush has approved the overall military and political strategy and is monitoring battlefield developments in the Persian Gulf War. But, Sununu said, "he doesn't sit down and get involved in every detail. He doesn't say, 'Let's see, Iraq has 36 Scud missiles and we've gotten 13 of them,' and tell the generals, 'Why don't you try this or that' " to take out the rest.

Bush, said Sununu, "understands probably more than any recent president that you can't have political figures manage a military operation."

In an interview before he took office, Bush described his own management style as an effort to broadly manage an enterprise and be fully briefed, but to try not to interfere in every decision and day-to-day problem. "Jimmy Carter got credit for knowing everybody who played on the White House tennis court," Bush said then, "And President Reagan has been a master delegator. I think I would be somewhere in between."

Bush has "defined a management role" for himself that includes setting a general tone for the public on how the war is going, managing and monitoring generally the progress of the engagement, but leaving "military tactics, logisitics and analysis" to the generals, according to White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. "You read the stories about Lyndon Johnson going over the military targeting charts and picking targets. . . . I don't think you would ever see George Bush going over targeting charts. He's not involved in that kind of micromanagement."

While the White House itself is not engulfed in a sense of crisis, it is preoccupied with the war. Televisions are on in most offices, and hundreds more reporters than usual pack the areas open to the press. One senior official said the only thing he is doing outside the gulf crisis is preparing for Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 29.

One aide described Bush as "quite conscious of his role as the central figure from whom Americans take their sense of how this {the war} is going." To that end, Fitzwater said, it was the president, monitoring television coverage of the war, who decided yesterday that he wanted to open his news conference with a broad statement cautioning the country against overconfidence.

Bush watched yesterday's television replays of a Pentagon film of "smart bombs" hitting their targets in Baghdad, and this added to his concern, according to Fitzwater, that Americans would get the sense that technological marvels would erase "the realities that people are getting killed, bullets are flying everywhere, war is a messy deadly business. He was concerned the reports were too good."

As a result, Bush reiterated in more formal fashion the brief remarks he had made on Thursday that Americans should not be overconfident. "This effort will take some time," the president said in a statement opening his news conference. Referring to Iraq's "powerful military machine," he added, "We can't expect to overcome it overnight. . . .We must be realistic. There will be losses. There will be obstacles along the way. War is never cheap or easy."

While Bush, who has always preferred informal settings, is unlikely to give another address from the Oval Office like the one Wednesday night, he probably will appear more often with progress reports on the war, according to senior officials. That decision reflects his long-standing preference for more question-and-answer sessions rather than set speeches.

A senior official said Bush is also intent on "not being held hostage" to the ups and downs of the crisis -- an attitude evident Thursday night when he remained in the White House family quarters to dine with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly rather than return to the Oval Office or Situation Room when the Iraqis launched their attack on Israel. Fitzwater said announcing that Bush had returned to the working quarters of the White House would have been "unneccessary and a move for public relations consumption."

"The president had a full complement" of officials involved in managing that situation, Fitzwater said, and was talking to them by phone. "There was not anything he needed to do" in connection with it except get phone updates by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft on how he and Secretry of State James A. Baker III were handling the U.S. reaction.

Bush plans on spending the three-day weekend at Camp David, where officials will visit for updates. A senior official said Bush can return quickly to Washington if he needs to and more than that "needs the relaxation and recreation."

A senior official said there was no plan on how Bush should act or what the tone should be during the early days of the war. The official said that aides such as Scowcroft, who has served other presidents in similar crises, and Fitzwater, who has experience in five previous U.S. military operations, had offerred advice and suggestions. As a result, Bush took such traditional steps as attending church services the morning after the beginning of military action, calling congressional leaders to the White House and going to the Pentagon for a full military briefing.

One aide, asked whether White House officials had strategized on how Bush should perform the public role of commander-in-chief this week, said, "It's not us, it's him." Bush, he said, "has his own sense of what he thinks is appropriate for him to do and be seen doing . . . and he's telling, not being told."

This, said one official, "is not Ronald Reagan, and we are not a bunch of Michael Deavers over here," a reference to the Reagan public relations aide who helped orchestrate most of what the public saw of the former president.