Obama’s Afghanistan Decision: Procrastinating or Deliberating?
President Obama intends to announce his decision on plans for Afghanistan on Tuesday. He has taken months to make this decision and consulted with his war council at least nine times. This is a tough decision (see Business Decisions for more on Tough Decisions), and he has been thinking about it for some time. His decision process on Afghanistan has focused attention on the way presidential decisions should be made. Has the president been procrastinating on this decision or deliberating, taking the necessary time to make the right decision? Let’s look at the case for each.
The president has been procrastinating to delay the decision. The Afghanistan decision is a classic tough decision: no matter what he decides it will be unpopular and criticized. Many of his supporters and many from his own party will disagree with sending more troops. Additional funding for an increase will bring more criticism and require support from the Republican Party, as many Democrats will be against it. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee is calling for an additional income tax to fund an expansion of the war. This will make it even more unpopular. If the president decides not to support expansion of the Afghan war, he will be blamed for any subsequent failure of the war and for not having the courage to do what was needed. No matter what he decides, his critics will use it against him, and the division of the American people on the issue will help feed that criticism. Procrastination is common when someone is faced with a tough decision that will be criticized no matter what is decided. The president is procrastinating to postpone the anguish that will come from all the criticism, but in procrastinating, sometimes the situation gets worse, as it may have in Afghanistan.
The president has been deliberating to make the best decision. President Obama has a very different decision-making style than his predecessor, George Bush. President Bush was an instinctive, some say “jump too fast to a conclusion”, decision maker. President Obama’s decision style is the opposite. He doesn’t go with his gut feel; he takes time to think through the alternatives, seek advice, consider the outcomes, and then decide. This more deliberate decision process will usually lead to a better decision because it is more thorough. The decision takes shape over time, enabling a more complete decision that considers all critical factors and assumptions. More deliberate decision making, particularly with tough decisions, is an important characteristic that many Americans look for in a president. A gut-feel decision by the President of the United States scares a lot of people. President Obama’s deliberate decision process on Afghanistan will lead to the best decision because it was thorough, and he took the time to do it right.
In this decision, President Obama will be judged as much on his decision process as the decision itself. After all, since we don’t have the benefit of the information he had in reaching a decision, our confidence in the decision is based on our judgment of the process. So, what is your conclusion: procrastinating or deliberating?