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Principal Leadership v. Principled Leadership

In Voting the War, Victor Davis Hanson writes of the current lot of Presidential candidates and the varying positions on the Iraq War, "consistency of belief reveals a lot, since it suggests that views are formed on principles rather than the prevailing, and constantly shifting, majority impression." In presidential leadership during a time of war, there can be no substitute for principled beliefs and positions underpinning the arrays of decisions necessary in the successful prosecution of war. Such exists with President George W. Bush, though cheapened by the caricaturization of his "Stay the course" phrase, which was likewise fueled by his own communications shortcomings.

Vacillation and hedging along with the accompanying indecision in political leadership leads to a troubled path. Mission and strategy become less clear to high-level commanders and this necessarily trickles down the chain of command, affecting individual actions on the ground with hesitance borne of uncertainty. Initiative is lost.

President Bush has - in this writer's view - maintained his base principles in his thinking on Iraq and our involvement there. However, 2006 was a very difficult year. In 2007, things changed.

What changed? Many will cite "The Surge." That term, however, cheapens what really took place: The Shift.

A wholesale shift in both strategy and tactics, and wholesale shift in mindset. Clarity of mission and decisive leadership, from both President Bush as well as General David Petraeus. The effects are undeniable.

And what allowed this 'Shift' to happen while a majority were calling for either phased or complete withdrawal, including the misguided general 'shift' recommended by the widely championed Baker-Hamilton Report?

A decision by the Commander in Chief that was made on the foundations of principle.

Accepting the popular Baker-Hamilton recommendations - particularly at a low-point of personal popularity and presidential approval ratings - would have been Principal Leadership. Instead, what we saw was Principled Leadership, regardless of whether one happened to agree with the principles held or not.

It was that foundation of principle that enabled not simply a numeric 'surge,' but a complete shift in attitude and thinking by the American men and women on the ground in Iraq. Where it counts. Where it matters.

More on the critical importance of principle in American leadership shortly.