tv The Presidency George W. Bush the Iraq Surge CSPAN January 25, 2020 12:00pm-1:26pm EST
on monday, february 3. watch our interview sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on q&a. >> next on "the presidency," a discussion about president george w. bush's 2007 decision to increase american troop levels in iraq. former bush administration officials meghan o'sullivan and peter feaver talk about their subsequent efforts to document these events in an oral history entitled, "the last card: inside george w. bush's decision to surge in iraq." this is the first of three programs on the surge hosted by the center for presidential history at southern methodist university in dallas. >> i would be remiss if i did not recognize my great friend, colleague, the best president of the best world affairs council in the united states.
i know we have a lot of world affairs council members here. jim faulk, very grateful to jim for this help. -- for his help. we have players, including stephen hadley, who will be speaking tonight. a truly great public servant who was the director of the nsc under bush, and i say public servant in days when that meant something and it really mattered. and we respected people who hold these high positions. we look forward to hearing from him tonight. and i think now without even leaving the stage, i will get the first panel underway so that we can start this. as a college professor, i would say, get your notepads out. there will be questions, discussion. we are going to start with our first panel, and i want to invite the panelists to come up to the stage.
tim sale from the university of toronto, who was here as a postdoc, he is going to chair the panel and lead the discussion about this. he worked on among other things nato. i think nato has been in the news quite a bit, so make a note about that. meghan o'sullivan, the kirkpatrick professor at the kennedy school at harvard, an expert on north america, among other things, and one of the officials of the trilateral commission. and also former member of the bush national security council. and finally, of course, peter feaver, welcome back to the hilltop. he is a professor at duke and director of the grand strategy program and former white house official in the bush administration. if you all would not mind joining me and giving a big round of welcome for our
panelists. tim? [applause] tim: thank you. it is a pleasure to be back here and it is a pleasure to be on stage with one of the interviewed teams and some of the policymakers from the surge decision. the three of us spent a lot of time asking questions of others, and so it is my pleasure to ask you some questions today. as we move around the country interviewing all of the 28 people that are interviewed for the book, we often began with the question, how did the surge story begin for you? and we ask the interviewees to sort of set the stage with when they started thinking about what we would come to know as the surge. i want to ask you a variation on that question, which is the origin story of the project itself. where did it come from?
mr. feaver: i will observe that when we did the interviews, we ran into a lot of people who had come up with the idea of the surge. this is one of the phenomena that success has 1000 parents. i cannot lay claim to coming up -- i was not one that could lay claim to coming up with the idea but i can lay claim to coming up with the idea for this project. it actually grew out of work i did as a graduate student on the oral history of permissive action links, which was a device that protected nuclear weapons from unauthorized use that was invented in the late 1950's, early 1960's. as harvard prepared to do the oral history of the cuban missile crisis, they wanted to pioneer the technique with a 's -- with a
smaller project and asked me and another person to do that. pals were a great idea that turned out to have about four or five people who invented the idea and had been telling their grandchildren for decades that they had invented it. and it was not until we interviewed them and brought them on stage together that they discovered they were not the only ones. it turned into almost a comical exchange when we brought them all together. i said to meghan, there were so many consequential decisions that the bush administration made. it would be interesting to do the same kind of study of bush administration decisions where we would interview folks separately to see their individual role and then bring them and collectively to see how the roles fit together. and meghan said, great idea. let's start with an easy one.
the surge. we would have so much momentum we would do one after the other. it turned out to be more difficult to pull off and took longer than we thought. but i am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. that is how the project started for me. meghan, what would you add? ms. o'sullivan: i would confirm your thesis that everyone believes it begins with them. i think that is a good sign. you and i had that conversation and agreed. this was maybe eight years ago. something like that. when i left the government in 2008, i started teaching a class at harvard, which was trying to teach my students how national security decision-making happens in the u.s. government. and i structured a course that was around 15 decisions based on iraq. a deep dive into 15 decisions. the surge was one of them. i felt like this would be something that would be useful to try to dig into each of these decisions, the way peter said.
it was a meeting of minds around some useful projects we might do. like peter, this is not exactly how i expected it would unfold but i am very glad so many people devoted so much time and energy to putting this together. in something that i think will have some real historical import. tim: it makes a lot of sense and success can have 1000 parents. it was interesting how that balance in our conversations, with people learning where their role fits in the broader scheme of decision-making. one question i want to ask you both. your resources for the project and you were able to tell us about what was happening in within the white house and we also learned about different levels of different initiatives and different parts of government. was there anything new for you in this project?
what did you learn as we went through and put them all together? mr. feaver: i learned i have a face for radio. the original plan was we were just going to do interviews. that is what meghan and i thought. the important piece that jeff and smu added was, let's make it a video record of people's interviews, which will then make it more useful for other scholars, but also as a teaching tool for other colleges and courses. i think in hindsight, jeff was right. that does magnify its use and its reach, but it made the whole process so much more complicated. there were some really amazing moments when we realized we needed to travel all the way to
jackson hole to interview vice president cheney, and we thought we had an agreement to do the interview. and it was not until we were all sitting there that we had to renegotiate the agreement. i was already not looking forward to submitting my travel claim for the hotel that i was staying at if i had nothing to show for it. i learned that doing an interview on video does change the dynamic of the person you are interviewing. and it makes it harder for them to sort of say something and as they are saying it, say, that is not what i meant, i meant something else. when you do a written interview as is done at the miller center, you get a chance to fix those. because you realize five minutes after you've said it, i thought
that was october, but now i realize it was november. when you're doing it in a video, you can't do that. and that makes people more cautious maybe. so there is a pro and con. my solution to that was that we would give everyone the option to say something off-camera afterwards, and occasionally we learned something from those sessions. but that was not a perfect fix for this challenge. ms. o'sullivan: i think your question might have been about if we learned anything about the process we did not know. certainly there are things that were new to me and doing -- in reading the accounts and doing interviews, but i would say my larger take away on the whole was that we at the nsc had remarkable visibility about what was going on.
there were not any big shocks or surprises to me. that in fact was a surprise in itself. that does not mean we knew everything going on. the council of colonels which has become fairly well-known, i was not aware that was going on at the time. i learned about it subsequent to the surge. but we saw what came out of the pentagon was more what came up through official channels. but i do think it underscores the point and value of oral histories, because everything was invented in a constant conversation. people in this room, i look out and i think about the endless numbers of phone calls, hallway conversations, emails. there was a constant conversation going on with people working 16 to 18 hours a day. there was a lot of visibility over what we were doing, and i think the people who are working on the issue from every agency, we had some really good
relationships there. and there was a lot of sharing. so i think that was good. in terms of learning a little bit about the process, one of my regrets is that we did not do this earlier. i think that is a pretty common regret. but it made me think about as a policymaker did i ever for a minute think about, is there something i could do for historians that would make this more transparent later? i have to confess, it did not cross my mind. but i think were i ever to be in a position again as a policy maker that it is definitely something worth thinking about. i know in the coalition provisional authority in iraq, where i spent for more than a year, we had a resident historian. i was trying to remember his name. it is gordon. i don't remember his last name. he was someone who did not get a time and attention of people because it felt like everything
was pressing, and it was. everything was pressing. but in retrospect, having those people there at that time, it is worth trying to prioritize that a little bit more so that we can capture people's insights and thoughts and feelings, but not a decade later, as we ended up doing. tim: on the issue of the transcripts and the videos themselves, i should say they are now available on the website. people can watch the videos and read the transcripts. some of them have been annotated with footnotes, so there is some catch for that. but we made this material available for teaching and for scholarship. in academia, this comes with a secondary question, when are you going to get the documents? what about the primary sources? we have this oral history collection and in some ways it has let us capture some of the
constant conversation or know there is a conversation occurring outside of the written record. but i'm curious, you both wrote a lot of memos in government, what will change in the surge story when the primary documents are released? will the story change? ms. o'sullivan: that's a great question, tim. i'm excited for the day they documents are public because they will help flesh out the story. a lot of official government documents will be less revealing because many official documents of the product of the clearance process and people trying to forge consensus and put forward consensus views. there is some of that in the surge policy, but a lot of the surge documents, especially at the level of the president, were actually written to try to
clarify different positions and different options, and to clarify the differences and consequences of them and move those to the president. i think it will be useful. there are two things i hope come out of it that i think are still part of the conversation, or the emerging narrative around the surge. the first, and this shows up in the book quite a bit, the idea that the president's decision was a gamble. that phrase suggests -- and there is a lot in the book and some of the interviews that there were two options, withdraw or double down. and basically the president didn't like the first, so he went with the second. i really don't think that is a representation of what happened and the complexity of the decision is very difficult to capture, even in multiple interviews. i think documents will show that
president bush's decision to go with the surge was really the product of deep analysis. it is not that he did not like the alternative so he decided on the surge and there was all this effort to create a justification for it. it very much was a project of analysis. what are the dynamics of on the ground in iraq? how did they change from when we made our first strategy? what are those dynamics, and what are our abilities to affect those dynamics? i personally, how i was seeing it at the time was that the violence, which appeared to many as a civil war, that violence appeared to me to be two extremist groups, largely sunni ia stoking violence among broader population. if that analysis was right, if we could get at those two extremist groups, we could deflate the widespread violence. however, if the violence was a product of historical animosity
and not being stoked by external extremist groups, that would not work. it turned out it was the first. we did see a dramatic deflation of violence in the fall of 2007. again, my point is not that president bush was just saying, i refuse to accept the option of defeat and therefore i am going for the alternative. the papers will show this. there was an extensive process to look at the drivers of the conflict, to look at how they might be changed, what our capabilities were, what the iraqi capabilities were. and while we certainly could not know the outcome, i think we can feel confident that the strategy was based on more than a gamble. the second thing, and i will keep this very brief, i think naturally a lot of the focus has been on the military component of the surge. this is true in the book. some people have gone so far as to say there wasn't a strategy.
i think what people find is there is a lot more tension than has been revealed thus far on the political dynamics, even on the diplomatic side, on changing our own structure, our bureaucracy. all of these pieces that came together with the military piece to be a strategy were there, they are just less glamorous, less visible. and i think someone looking over the documents will see them with much more clarity. mr. feaver: one of the things meghan and i hoped to be able to do is get more documents released in time to be used in this. we got some, but not as many as we hoped. i do believe that some of those will be revealing. i was struck by my memory of what the document said was different from someone i was interviewing, their memory of
what the document said. i was pretty sure i was right, but the person i was interviewing thought it was something different and i thought, we have to wait until the document comes out to see which of us has the better memory of it. i also think that, if i could wave a magic wand and release just one of the documents in time to be chewed on for this project, it would be the state memo, which was -- when steve hadley convened that separate strategy reviews that had been done in different apartments into an interagency one chaired andifferent departments into interagency one chaired by jd crouch, at that moment, we were trying to figure out as an interagency combined what options we were presenting to the president. and there was an option coming from the jcs, there was an option coming from the state
department, and it was a very powerfully written memo that had been written that proposed a very dramatic change in strategy, change in mission, change in goals, really. we spent a lot of time as a collective wrestling with this option. it was not a random thought out inthis was a serious matter the state department. a very big player in the agency, it was not a random thought out there. the interviews do not wrestle with that memo as much as they should have, and as a consequence, i think the academic essays at the back of the book did not wrestle with that memo adequately. but i think doing so would be crucial for the presentist goal of understanding what it is like
to make policy when you do not know what the outcome is going to be, knowing that the president chose the surge, knowing that it worked out so much better than the critics but it would, makes that whole line seem more inevitable than it did at the time. and wrestling more faithfully with what the options were as we thought they were, as the protagonists in the strategy review were arguing for, that would be more useful for lessons learned. kinds of studies. so i look forward to that. selfishly, i do hope one of the memos i wrote finally gets out, because this was after the president had more or less decided on it, and steve asked me, what could go wrong? so red team the decision. i came up with a list of 12
things or something that could go wrong. the idea was task the interagency to address each one of these. and as we were addressing each one of these, three or four of them happened over the course of the next six months and i thought, this may not work out. the baby may die in the cradle kind of moment. fortunately, the team, david petraeus and crocker, were more adept at dealing with these situations as they arose. but i feel like as an analytic product, i rarely guess correctly, but there was a time when i guessed correctly three or four things that could happen. so for my grandchildren, i hope that one sees the light of day one day. tim: if i could sum up what you are both saying is we need more historians. there is more work for us to do,
and it raises my next question. peter, you alluded to the academic section of the book. we sometimes call it the scholarly section. the book is divided into two, with oral history component of the beginning and policymakers -- at the beginning, policymakers on record and then scholars examining this. i think the chapter you wrote with mr. hadley shows there is a distinction between policy and -- this is a blurry distinction between policy and scholarship, and you both are great examples of this. you have credible academic training. but also this policy experience. can you talk about how we bridge that gap, whether we should bridge that gap, what academic scholars can bring to policymaking, and what policymakers can bring to academia? mr. feaver: i thought one of the
most revealing moments in the project was a statement made by dick bets, and established scholar and one of the giants in my area of study. we were at a workshop and we were workshopping his chapter and we were arguing over a statement or something. and he revealed how much of a struggle it was for him to wrestle with these issues, in part because he had been shaped as a scholar in the wake of the vietnam war. he was one of the first generations of scholars just as the vietnam war was ending. and, of course, he had been one of the most prominent critics of the decision to invade iraq.
he signed the academic letters, etc.. so he was telling me he was emotionally invested in the iraq war debate on one side of it, and in some ways, and i am projecting, he didn't say this. but as i heard him, i thought, you are as much invested in this particular narrative of iraq as any of the policymakers who had worked on the issue. and i realized the design of the project was built on an assumption that probably was not true, namely, there were policymakers who were biased because they had worked on the issue and thus had insights, but you had to recognize that they had a skew and you had to filter for obvious professional bias.
on the one hand. and then there were scholars who were objective truth seekers who could stand apart from it, separate from it, and evaluate what the biased policymakers had said. and i realized in that workshop that actually, it was probably easier for the policymakers to be candid about ways they had called it wrong at the time. it seemed to me in our interviews many of the policymakers found it easier to have some self-awareness and admit when they got it wrong and it was harder for the academics. in particular, if you had gone on record saying the decision to invade iraq was bad or that the decision to surge is a mistake, and so many of the academics who had opposed the iraq war also
vocally, actively opposed the surge and said it was a mistake. it was very hard for those academics to then step back and say, you know what? maybe the surge was a better idea than i realized. to develop that objectivity. this was a question for my friends on the academic panel later this afternoon. am i overstating this case? i might be, i don't know. but i do think there is at least on an issue like the iraq war where it has become so politicized in the academy, it is likely there is not an objective perspective. everybody has a stake. that is an important difference. the other difference, of course, is something that historians know very well, political
scientists ignore more regularly, and that is the human element to the context of a decision. by which i mean these are human beings making the decisions with all of the strengths and weaknesses that human relations produce. meghan mentioned this just in passing, but i want to mention it here. one reason the surge strategy emerged was because of the trust that steve hadley was able to cultivate across the team. and, of course, steve is going to say it was not him, it was the president who was the primary trust generating engine, and i think that's right, but i give steve a lot of credit for growing the trust to be candid in the way we had to be.
because what we were talking about was the possibility that the most important project the president was engaged in might not succeed. that is a very hard thing to talk about inside the white house. and to have the freedom to do that and to wrestle with alternatives requires a lot of trust, and requires the person you're talking to is not going to be writing a memoir that is going to shiv you in the back and makes you look like a fool. there was one time, and i can vividly recall it. steve was about to say something and he looked at me and said, you better not be writing a book about this. and i ended up writing something about it, but i did not do it in a way that was sticking a shiv in someone. that is the human element. but if you did not have that, if you did not have level of trust,
i think certain policy options might not have survived long enough to be incubated to the point where they would work. i give credit. steve was great. meghan was really wonderful about allowing other people outside of her office to work on it. and i will give one last shout out. brett did not get as much credit and the contemporaneous accounts, bob woodward and other accounts. but we now know what a great public servant he has been across several administrations. but he was tireless on this issue at the time, and many others. so the human element is important. political scientists abstract all of that out and produce a number. but that loses all the human element.
historians are better at capturing that. ms. o'sullivan: not disagreeing, continuing on this question but , i think it is at the heart of this project, the difference between policymakers and academics. let me add to what peter said. i was struck in the course of this project but also in reading the final product about something i had realized earlier on in my career when i was working on the issue of sanctions. this was before i went into government and i was a fellow at the brookings institution. i realize you had academics who kept saying sanctions don't work and policymakers used sanctions with abandon. what explains this? and i realized, policymakers and academics are just asking different questions. they are interested in different questions. i think this project reveals that in some fashion. as a policymaker, or at the time, the question i was interested in and still am was did this process provide advice
and recommendations and a decision that was the best one open to the president at that time? that is what i am interested in. i think as we see in many of the academic chapters, which were really useful and interesting, there are a lot of other questions at play. and one of the things that animates a lot of the scholarly take on it is how does this process compare to some kind of ideal? again, as a policymaker, you are much less interested in that because you realize there is no one ideal that works in every circumstance and if you are asking the question i am asking, does the process produces the -- produce the best decision for this president at the moment, you realize the process is going to differ from president to president. let me give you one example of what i am talking about. there was a lot of talk in the foreign policy community about
the importance of the honest broker role of the national security advisor. brent embodies that idea of the honest broker. when i think about this particular moment in history, this surge process, i think steve hadley played that role as the honest broker. but that would not have been enough. if he had only played that role, we would not have gotten to where we got to. this is another topic we could talk about, but i think something that is not elucidated enough in the book is where the surge compares to the alternative. you might still have quibbles over the surge, but we have to ask, how it compares to the alternatives. going back to steve's roll, he managed to play the role of honest broker in the sense that the president had access and was aware of all of the views and opinions and recommendations of
everyone in his national security team. he had this awareness and steve made sure it was the case but steve also played additional roles. he played the role of being an advisor, and he played the role of helping the president after that decision had been made to ensure the government was actually going to be in a position to implement the change in strategy. being an honest broker was essential, but it was not enough in this case. i think a lot of academics would disagree with that based on the idea that the honest broker is the entirety of the job of the national security advisor. it is a shout out to steve for managing an incredibly complex process in such a professional and gracious way, but it is also an example of how some academics might be looking at come out was the national security adviser playing this role of honest broker? but me as a participant and policymaker, i am much more
interested in, is the national security advisor making sure the president has all the information that he needs to make a good decision, and providing advice to the president at a very lonely and dark moment? and making sure any decision made by the president actually can be implemented. tim: i'm going to turn to the floor in a moment for questions, and we do have microphones for people who would like to ask questions. but let me ask one final question before we open it up. i think it is appropriate here on a university campus. thank you very much for the tower center and the center for presidential history. my question is about presidential power. it is one of these abstractions you mentioned, peter. another person who crossed between academia and the policy world famously said that the power of the president is the power to persuade. i think we see that in this book. we see at times when the
president understands that his comments or questions might shape policy options that are presented to him so he stays back from the process at certain times. other times, he decides it is the right moment to persuade, to meet with the joint chiefs and others. for those of us who have not worked for a president, and i understand the balance in this room may be tilted toward people who have worked for a president. but for those of us who haven't, can you talk about what it is like to work in that environment, how important the individual working for the president is to that exercise? how you sought exercised in this time? what it means to work for a president, essentially. mr. feaver: meghan worked for a president much longer than i did. this is something that i have thought a lot about since i have
come back, and also reading the daily newspapers the last several years. i had the privilege of working for two presidents. president clinton, i was a jr. -- junior nsc staffer early on in his administration. and somewhat more senior in the bush administration. they were very different personalities. your interactions with them, at least my interactions with them, were very different. i had less access than meghan or certainly than steve had to president bush. but particularly with president bush, the overwhelming impression i had was how different he was from the cartoon caricature that my academic friends back at duke held of him. their version of him was not
smart, not thoughtful, not well read, inarticulate and reflexive, making impetuous decisions. and that was not the person that i saw. i saw someone who was deeply committed to the integrity of the office of the president, and the notion that he was a custodian of something greater than himself, that he was temporarily a steward of, but that he had to hand onto the next person, and he had to make sure he left the next person better off than he had been. and that was the job of the president, to leave the next person better off if you could. i'm not saying he did not make mistakes.
of course he made mistakes. but there was a commitment to something that was greater than just his own legacy, his own standing, the way people thought of him. that was inspiring. he also was so much smarter than people gave him credit for. i will never forget one day he came to the nsc to give an all hands meeting. many, many people work at the white house and never see the president. they are working at a level where they do not have interaction. that was my role in the clinton administration, so one of my jobs was to always beg for opportunities to at least be in the same room as the president. so, this was a moment in the bush administration where the president came and spoke to everyone at the nsc.
for most of them, it was the first time in the room with the president. and he went around the world with no notes and said, this is what i am trying to do in southeast asia. this is what i am trying to do in qatar. here is what i am trying to do in latin america. my job in strategic planning was to be able to see the big picture and how all the different pieces fit. i could not have done as good a job as he did. and i realized this president knows so much more about the guts of what he's trying to do than my academic friends would believe. and i do think that causes staff to be loyal up. the bush administration, the team still has a high degree of camaraderie.
we just got together a couple of weeks ago for a reunion. and it was striking to see the level of camaraderie. and this is the last point i will say. my friends say, what do you miss most about working in d.c.? and i say, it is the teamwork, the sense that you are all working on something bigger than yourself that matters. in academia, you are mostly working on yourself. and in government you have a chance to work for something bigger. that is something that the president, i think, conveyed well. ms. o'sullivan: i agree with everything that peter said, and certainly that is my impression and memory of the president, without a doubt. i will be very brief. but to add one more thing, and i think it gets to the heart of your question, which is about the president and anyone in authority and their ability to affect the information that
comes to them by just a minute gesture. and president bush talks about this in his interview about how he was conscious of that. and i thought a lot about this during my time in the white house, because i would watch how carefully i watched the president. and not just his explicit verbal directions to me, but when i would walk into the oval office, if i was pre-briefing the president before a phone call or meeting, i would look for every cue in the room to see how much time i actually had. do i have two minutes or 10 minutes? i would rely on all sorts of things. what kind of shoes is he wearing? he is in a better mood if he is wearing cowboy boots and i may have longer. is the vice president in the room? maybe there are other things going on. you're constantly looking for cues. i think that is part of being an effective person in government. but the downside can be that if you are a president, any joke,
muttering under the breath, could actually shape what you get in your next briefing or what people give you, because there is that natural desire to please the president. so i do think the president was very conscious of that and i would say, and i will end here, but i would say he explicitly made it clear to me that he was open to me telling him things he did not want to hear. when i left the white house, i got this wonderful cd with 400 pictures of me with the president over the years i was there. and my mother was looking at it and said, why is he making that face at you in almost every photo? and i said, because i am giving him bad news in every single one of these pictures. and that was true. and when we came to the search
-- surge decision, i think he may have said this to others, but it weighed on me very heavily. i still think about it. he said to me, i am looking to you to tell me how we can change the trajectory in iraq, but i am also looking to you to tell me if we can't. that is a big idea. he was saying, you know i want to win and if there is any way to do it, i want to know how to do it. but he was not saying, don't bring me any other conclusions. and i really remember reflecting, saying, i think i am capable. if there is a way to be successful, i think i am capable of working with this amazing group of people are finding it and advocating for it. but am i capable of walking in there and saying, there is no step to take to change the trajectory? fortunately, we did not have to go there. but the president was explicit about it and i think that is out of the character most people would expect.
given some of the caricatures. tim: what an incredible responsibility. i would like to open it up to the floor if anyone has any questions for peter and meghan and their experience about the making of the project. i believe a microphone will come right over. the two gentlemen in the middle. thanks, brian. yes, sir? >> thank you for that excellent analysis of the surge and the process that was used. do you know whether a similar process was used at the time the decision was made to go into iraq? mr. feaver: neither of us were in the government at the time so that is a great question to ask our keynote speaker tonight at
dinner, who is our friend and former boss, steve hadley. i do know that the administrations learn over time and i remember when steve took over for condi, he said, there are some things we did well in the first term and we need to build on that, and there are some process things that we did not do as well and we need to refine our process to do that. that's in fact how my job got created at the nsc, to do more of a certain kind of processing. so i suspect in all administrations, they grow over time. tim: i can say having not been in the white house in 2003 or 2006 that this is something that comes up in the oral history volume. there are people reflecting on
the learning process. it is very much part of the story. mr. feaver: cory shockey, who worked in the first term and wrote one of the papers, argue -- are you on a panel later on this afternoon? well, i suspect this topic will come up because this is something she wrote about. >> it is really great to hear about the inner workings in the white house and what goes on behind the scenes. how did you get into that? was it your academic career pushed you there, or you had a colleague, or just luck that you got in? ms. o'sullivan: part of the lottery. i came to the white house after being in the bush administration for a couple of years previously. i joined the bush administration right after 9/11 as part of a wave of people who joined government. i went over to work at the state
department. i then volunteered to go with our military to iraq as a civilian, so before the war, and ended up being in iraq for the first 16 or 17 months. when we transferred sovereignty to the iraqis, it would have been normal that i would have gone back to the state department. but at that point, i was offered a job by condi rice to come to the white house. that was a reflection of the fact that iraq was still a very difficult policy issue for the united states with a lot of time and attention was being focused on it and there were a lot of things that needed to be adjusted. i had been there for quite a long time and had developed some key relationships with people and hopefully a pretty good understanding of the dynamics on the ground. so there certainly was a big element of luck involved, but that was the path that got me to
the white house. mr. feaver: i have just connected a dot by you asking that question. i did a little bit of work on the 2000 campaign for some of the foreign policy advisers to then governor bush. and in exchange, i got an interview with richard haas. he was going to be incoming director of policy planning. i flubbed the interview and he hired meghan instead. i just realized,, you got the job i was not good enough to get. so i was in the bleachers, in the cheap seats for the first term. in the second term, when steve took over for condi, he created this new office. and i remember him saying he dashed saying this, he said he
did not. he was interviewing and he said that he wanted an office of someone who would look at the big picture and only an academic would be arrogant enough to work across all of the issues that i want you to work on. so he was looking for an academic who could pass who could pass political muster in the white house. academics are not blush's -- bush's core constituency. i probably had an advantage in the interview, and a was -- i was able to come in. did not know steve until the first time i met him, which was in the job interview. it was something for a risk to have hired me, although i had many friends in the administration. >> a somewhat technical question and may be better for the later panel. but i am interested in how you make decisions and how the quality and accuracy of the
intelligence that feeds the system affects the answer. and i know that you have painted a really surprisingly positive picture of the decision-making around the surge, and i am aware that in the early stages, the office of special plans was sort of set up to negate some of the stuff coming out of the intelligence community in general. so a general question about what you felt while you were there about the quality of intelligence, and how important that was. ms. o'sullivan: i know peter has something he wants to say about this, but briefly, the intelligence was an integral part of our process. so, we had the director of national intelligence. the director of the cia. i'm talking about the surge process now, not going back to
2003. not everybody always appreciates -- intelligence, i always think about it as an input into the process. so policymakers do not spend a huge amount of time focusing on, could this intelligence be right? was the source considered to be accurate? these are all new questions that generally, the intelligence is an input into the process and the policymakers job is to determine, given the nature of the problem, what should we do about it? so we used the intelligence community input in a variety of ways. i can give you one example in which i think it was critical. one of the debates that was occurring in the surge process was, what would happen, is it a viable strategy or part of a strategy to turn over the responsibility for quelling sectarian violence to iraqi forces? if you remember, there was an
iraq study group and it had a certain appeal to people. let the iraqis deal with the sectarian violence, we will deal with al qaeda, and we will have this division of labor. it was a serious proposal by many and we investigated it and asked a number of different bodies to give us their assessment of what happens in that instance. are the iraqis strong enough to actually beat back the sectarian violence on their own without american or coalition assistance? so, we asked a whole variety of factors for their opinions. -- of actors to give us their opinions. i remember the intelligence community assessment was particularly important. all of the assessments said the iraqis are completely incapable of taking this on their own and we should expect much larger scale sectarian violence if we go that direction. but we turned to the intelligence community for
evaluation along those lines. i remember that to be very useful. mr. feaver: the one i remember that was the sharp point on what meghan was describing was, the question came down to what kind of leader was he? would he lead as a sectarian divisive figure, or was he just surrounded by people giving him bad information? or was he just insecure in his position and needed bolstering? of course, that was an important unknown, but the viability of the surge depended in part on the bet he would make about who maliki was. of course, we asked the intelligence community to make their assessment, which they did, but it was not confident enough in the judgment and the
president sent steve to personally meet with maliki and take measure of the man. that was my first and only trip to iraq. meghan has been there many times. but the three of us went. the purpose of the trip was for steve to take his assessment. i can tell you about this because his trip memo showed up in "the new york times" a couple of weeks later, and it was the scariest moment of my professional career because there were only three or four people who had access to that memo, or so i thought. i knew i was one of them. i knew i had not leaked it but i was not sure i could persuade anyone else that i was not the one who leaked it. fortunately the person who did -- the version that had leaked was the version that had been distributed more widely, so i lived to fight another day.
but if you read the memo, you can see steve wrestling with this intelligence question. who is maliki and what can we do to change the trajectory of the way he governs? the success of the surge hinged on the president, steve, and others getting that right, and i think they did. there is no question that maliki, under the surge, governed iraq more effectively in a way that better suited what the u.s. needed. steve got the analysis right but it was an intelligence question. and at the end of the day, as meghan said, intelligence cannot -- could not give us a guarantee, that it would be one or the other. you had to take a bet. it was not a wild gamble, but it was a bet based on the best evidence that steve could gather.
tim: this will be our second to last question. >> hi, i'm julie branson. i worked for the bush administration for the last seven years and i was at the pentagon during the surge doing communications and was detailed to the white house at one point and we were asked by the media for information we could not give them. i am just wondering, looking -- sensitive, or classified, and they wrote stories anyway and came up with their own thoughts. i am just wondering, looking back at all the papers and historically, you piqued my interest with this, what role did the media play? not that it necessarily would make you change your decision. did you have to fight on another front, or how did that affect the whole decision-making and moving forward and being able to? ms. o'sullivan: very specifically, and this has been said about president bush throughout the interviews and is fairly well known that the
press, obviously we were all aware of the environment we were living in. our families were reading the press. our friends were reading the press. but i think it was remarkable in the way president bush was not driven by the press. i cannot even remember a single day in the many years i worked on this issue in the white house where i came in the office and had to respond to something that had been in the press that i had to explain what so-and-so was talking about in the press. there were many mornings i came in and there were questions, but they generally related to something called the iraq night note, which my office and my team did for the president every night, which was not things in the press but diplomatic reporting, intelligence reporting. so i do not feel like the media drove the people who were in the
policymaking world in a very considerable way. but it obviously affected the overall environment in which we were trying to operate. this allows me to make a point i was hoping to make, which is about, i think one of the things that is useful in doing a project like this oral history is to also say, what did not happen in the process that so often happens in other processes? it is remarkable how little domestic politics intruded into these deliberations. i have a specific memory. i can remember the president's face exactly. i was in the oval office and i forget what i said to the president exactly, but it was something about the actual policy in iraq and i made some comment about the politics and how it would play at home. and i remember him saying, stop. i do not need your political advice. just tell me what you think in terms of policy.
the politics, that's my job. and he was very right about that. no one needs my political advice. the domestic peace it was , it was incredible how little it intruded in our deliberations. it was not a big driver, i certainly did not feel the burden of putting >> i had a slightly different role than megan and so i had more interactions i think with the arguments that were alive in the press but also in the thing tank community, the public commentary. there was an office that worked for karl rove whose job it was to listen to the critics of the administration who were navy supporters of the president but worried about this, that, or the other thing. that office would send me -- we are hearing that this is going
wrong. what is the ground truth? and that particular -- pete wainer was the head of that office and he played an incredibly valuable role as the internal team b asker of it inconvenient questions. if someone on cnn is shouting at the administration from afar. it is another thing when someone has the unquestioned trust of the president and his loyal to the president but asks the inconvenient questions. it was useful as a way to reflect on how strong is our argument? can
i persuade pete on the merits of this or that? and if not, then i had to go back to megan and say -- are we sure about this or that? it was a way of improving the rigor of our analysis. i can think of several occasions where outside critics were able to sharpen our analysis. there were a couple of other ways that they reassured us because we would bring in the sharpest and most critical analysts on tv. they came and talked to us and as they were telling us what they would do, they did not have a better idea to do than we did and that reassured us that we had considered all of the alternatives and there was not a good idea that somehow, because of groupthink, that we were not hearing. i found the press to be a more useful sounding board in that way. intellectually. and the last thing i will say is i know there are some members of the press who had it in for the president and were not fair. but, many of the -- what i would
call the a team reporters who covered the white house i think were trying to get the story accurately and trying to understand. and so, within the white house, i was one of those people that said -- let us engaged these folks because i do think they are trying to tell the story accurately. i don't really agree with president trump's posture of -- they are the enemy of the people and we have to treat them that way. i think that is a mistake. most of the folks i interacted with and saw and read are trying to get it right. >> i am told we have a little more time but i am anxious to protect your voices as well. maybe this will be the second to
last question. >> i'm curious about how difficult it was to work with the pentagon to generate options for decisions that many of the senior leadership within that organization may have posed and whether there was any concern when the president was seeming to listen -- lean towards a surge decision, the potential risks of being perceived as overruling the military advice that he was getting his top advisers. ms. o'sullivan: i cannot tell if peter wants to jump first. i would say that there was a lot of care taken in this regard. that it was difficult to get options from the pentagon. i won't deny that. particularly on questions about -- what would it take if we did decide that the objective was to secure baghdad? what would be required? these kinds of questions that may sound hypothetical but wanting to get a sense of -- is this
possible? are the resources there? these are questions that people cannot possibly answer and in some regards, this is when we did look at to get fidelity from our judgments from people outside of the pentagon. but we did have a second sort of strategy review going on. the bill lindy look. that was done out of the nsc and steve hadley may talk about that tonight to ask the question -- what kinds of resources did we have? the point i think that is more interesting was your second bed about what kind of care was given to managing this? and the potential damage that could be done with the president making the decision that the military had gone against. the president and steve hadley were very conscious of this and conscious of the fact that to make a decision that the military did not want to implement was not
going to be in anyone's interest. and so, and this does not come out in this project and hopefully will come out in subsequent projects and with the benefit of documents, there was really a very intensive effort to identify --what are the issues that the military has with this approach? and what might be done to mitigate those concerns? or are those concerns truly showstoppers? the two things that come to mind -- first, it was a strain on the force. that was of widespread concern and a legitimate one. and you have heard about the president going to the tank at the pentagon on december 13 and being in position to hear the concerns, to express his views, but also to be able to hold out -- not an all of branch, but to address some of those concerns
about that by increasing the strength of the forces. it was done in a way to acknowledge that these are legitimate concerns and here are ways that we can address them. the otherwise in which was even more critical in my mind which does not get virtually any play at this point was something that peter alluded to which was the question -- is maliki someone that we want to bet on? that we want to put our confidence in? the military had a strong view on this and the answer was no. they thought his way of governing was overly sectarian and there were good reasons for that judgment. it had a lot to do with targets given by the government to our military that were almost exclusively sunni. steve engaged maliki as did the
president over and over again and the message was very clear -- if america was going to make this commitment to iraq, maliki needed to make the commitment to treat everyone that broke the law the same whether you were a sunni, a shia, or a card. that was very difficult at that time for an array key -- for an iraqi leader. and so, until we got that commitment from him, i don't think our forces were going to have confidence in putting more force behind him. there was a lot of work that went into it. history shows maliki went before the iraqi parliament and made this statement -- i'm going to treat
everyone that breaks the law equally and he did to the point that he had to build a different political coalition because he lost the support of the shia group. there was no halfway for him. either you are going after these guys or you're not. and he made the shift. our military saw that immediately. that is an example of how that decision, or this process, was not just about making decisions. it was about creating the circumstances in which those decisions could be implemented successfully. and the skill of the president and steve hadley in bringing people along. not by convincing them or bulldozing them but identifying legitimate concerns and ways in which they could be mitigated. >> i was smiling because my friend and former colleague would have paid you $20 not to ask that question. that is my personal hobby horse. my job on
the nsa was to be a dilettante working on many issues where i had no academic bona fides. but on military action, that was something i did know something about. the only article i wrote while i was working at the nsc was an article for sam huntington. i remember steve was like -- you're not going to write an article while you are working for me. i said i had to do it. he read the article and said -- that is so boring, no one will read that. go ahead. [laughter] but, i had a precommitment academic theory on how civil-military relations ought to go and it was different from the way that sam huntington thought it should go. and then come in the process of the surge, i remember trying to structure it to the extent that i could in the direction that my own prior research said leads to better outcomes than that. and
this is how you manage the flaws in sam huntington's approach. i remember doing that. but we ended up doing was something different. it was exquisitely painful for me as an academic and practitioner of civil-mil to see my theory's and my not tested, semi-found not wanting and going in a different way than my argument would've said. the only consolation i had was that sam's way was worse than mine. so i was less wrong than my academic opponents were. but, this was one of the key potential failure modes for the surge especially, i would say, late december of 2006. one of
the ways that the surge could have been stillborn is if in reaching this decision, the president had inadvertently or the team had inadvertently created a civil-military crisis where the senior military's day -- this is such a bad idea, we can no longer support it. and a key portion of the president's efforts during that phase of the decision, this was mid-december of 2006, was getting the rest of the team, the military part of the team, on the same page that he was arriving at. so that he could say on january 10 that all of his advisers agreed. that was not true in october. that all of his it -- not all of his advisers did agree. but it was true by january 10. it was a process to get there. i remember
showing steve the final version of my article which said -- there is this academic version that did not work. we did a hybrid. steve said -- yes, obviously. academic models is not -- are not what you can do in a pragmatic, messy situation. i give a lot of credit to peach pays and the incoming secretary of defense, bob gates. they managed that process very effectively to of art what could have been a civil-mil crisis. >> we will take one more. >> you've mentioned a couple of times the decision-making process and having the ability -- you talked about how bush was
wanting to here different opinions. you have also talked about gaining different opinions from the intelligence it -- the intelligence community, from academics, from people on the ground over there. the question i have -- which -- with getting so much of that information, how did you go about sifting through that? this is legitimate. this is something particularly with the things that you agreed with but also those that you thought was contrary to everything you've seen. the sifting through that and figuring out what was a concern and what was not. if you could talk about that process that would be interesting. >> i'll go first and i will be
brief. this is a pipe that will be illuminated when documents come out. as people are now well aware and it is captured in this project, there was a whole series of meetings that considered a variety of things that culminated in a very intensive series of national security council meetings with president bush himself. now, i think, one of the things that will be obvious to people looking at the documents is in the meetings, we were not having the same conversation about options from day one. we did not begin with options. we began, and this is something that peter really reinforced with me early on before this became a public effort and it was more of an internal effort -- we began by looking at assumptions. where are the assumptions we have made about iraq and that we based our strategy on? we listed those. it
was a shocking exercise. when you list those, we said -- some of these might have been true but they are not true now. what is the nature of the violence? what is its driver? is it foreign occupiers in iraq? or is there a sectarian dimension? we did not begin the process by starting with options. there is always pressure in a situation where things are not going well. i think that steve and others gave us ato construct the process that actually started with assumptions and moved its way through. you will see in the documents that president bush spent a lot of time hearing about different issues, different perspectives on different issues that were not
about specific options. they were predicates to getting there. the one example i will give you because it stands out in my mind as one of the most critical decisions he made before the big decision, the surge. and i remember this paper. it was a question about -- should the united states takes risk -- take responsibility for quelling sectarian violence in iraq? senior leaders felt strongly about that. we cannot accept responsibility. i remember distinctly those arguments that happened in the nsc setting. the president said -- i know this will not be popular with everyone but we will assume some responsibility for this. it was the fact -- and the reason i
find that so significant is once he made that decision, it closed off some options. the decision-making tree in some respects. there were certain options then that were not consistent with that. the reason on saying this in answering your question is that the debates were not just about funneling everything into options. do we go home? do we stay? do we go bigger? it was a whole series of analysis that created a knowledge base up on which then the options could be debated. there was a lot of opportunity to feed in information from a variety of sources as we went. >> my answer allows me to link back to tim's first question about the bridge between the academy and the policy world. i was one of the few people in government who could be fired and still feed his family the next day. i had tenure at duke. that made me the most expendable
member of the nsc staff. as the chief said, you serve at the pleasure of the president and when the pleasure is gone, so are you. [laughter] i realized that meant that on some issues, i could be the person thrown into the snakes to make an unpopular argument or amount and unpopular fight and if i got crushed in the process, my family was still taken care of. that came up twice -- one time with a significant and powerful player that was arguing something that the nsc team thought was wrong and i looked around the room and i realized -- i'm the one that will have to jump on this grenade and argue against it. the other time gets directly to the heart of your question. with the state paper.
the state paper was powerfully argued. it was a compelling story of how we could perhaps do something different. but, what we -- what we on the nsc team did was let us look at this as if it was a scholarly argument. what are the assumptions under which -- that are driving this? the assumptions under which the state paper produced good outcomes -- if these assumptions are true, let us plug those into the other option and we realized that if those things are true, the other options were even better. this proposal is dominated in a logical way by the alternatives. it was a very academic exercise that we did. and, i think that carried the day along with the politics where the jcs said -- no, we are not going along with that and that also helped carry the day.
the point is that that kind of analysis that we try to teach our students how to do. they need it in government particularly in the war in the ornate policy issues. it is always -- it is not always the case that you are trying to assess what is the most popular thing? there is a basic piece of analysis that also needs to be done and much of that comes out in the book and hopefully come even more of it will come out when the documents come out. >> it has been a wonderful way to start the event. when you think about this project and the book, you realize how much we relied on the generosity and good will of interviewees to take their time. for those of you that are here today that agreed to be interviewed, thank you so much for participating. megan and peter, you participated as interviewers and interviewees and you were a
great resource as we developed the questions. i had to google what seocob meant. close of business. ok. [laughter] i learned an enormous amount from you as well our students. thank you. [applause] >> you are watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. discusses, our guest the experiences of black cowboys. pickett, if anybody
really knows what made him famous bulldog and. he grew up in texas. it apparently at some point in time, he saw bulldogs capturing bowls by biting them on their lip and holding them in place. he saw that and he said i could probably do that. [laughter] you probably wouldn't have said that. [laughter] that is what he started doing. it was a form of entertainment. he beganle, that's how to do the bull dogging. happened was at some point in time, bill pickett gimmick
contact with a couple of promoters who essentially took him around and again to have events and he gained more and more reputation. the bull dogging style. today it is called steer wrestling. their upperting left anymore. [laughter] photographs of him standing there biting the upper left and he was holding it in place. he really did do it. i don't know if you had a girlfriend -- [laughter] and the girlfriend asked you who you think kissing? [laughter] you don't want to say i've been
kissing balls. you don't want to do that. >> learn more tonight on american history tv. years ago on december 20, 1989, the u.s. army launched operation just cause the invasion of panama. the goal was to restore the democratically elected government and arrest manuel noriega on drug trafficking charges. next, a critical look at the invasion and the media's coverage in an academy award-winning documentary, the panama deception. narrated by elizabeth montgomery and including interviews with government officials and critics, the film argues that more people were killed than acknowledged and that the