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The Last CardInside George W. Bush's Decision to Surge in Iraq $
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Timothy Sayle, Jeffrey A. Engel, Hal Brands, and William Inboden

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501715181

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501715181.001.0001

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Decisions and Politics

Decisions and Politics

Chapter:
(p.260) Chapter 11 Decisions and Politics
Source:
The Last Card
Author(s):

Robert Jervis

Publisher:
Cornell University Press
DOI:10.7591/cornell/9781501715181.003.0012

This chapter illustrates how the perceived lessons of Vietnam were in the back of policy makers' minds as they considered the US predicament in Iraq, and notes that this episode demonstrates the power of bureaucracies in shaping information flows and policy options, as well as—paradoxically—of presidents in using their power and persuasion to bring reluctant bureaucracies along. The participants could not avoid remembering the conventional wisdom that the American defeat in Vietnam emboldened adversaries, sowed disunity at home, and crippled the military for years to come. Whether this is an accurate picture can be debated, but not the pervasiveness and power of this narrative within Bush's policy-making team. While there certainly were grounds for believing that for the US to withdraw without having established at least a modicum of order would have had unfortunate consequences for the region, America's reputation, and its self-image, Vietnam may have made it harder to make an unbiased estimate of the likely magnitude of these effects. Vietnam also influenced the way the military fought: the reaction to the war was that it was the kind of conflict the US should never fight again.

Keywords:   Vietnam War, policy makers, Iraq War, bureaucracies, presidents, policy options, US military, George W. Bush

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