February 8, 2016 | Forbes

What Makes A Great President?

We moved to Washington from Rome early in 1977, and I worked at CSIS, then home to many luminaries of the Republican Establishment. There was a lot of talk about Ronald Reagan, running for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of that talk was anything but flattering. By and large the luminaries thought the California governor was much too extreme, a far-out conservative incapable of attracting the independents who decided presidential elections.

None of the luminaries—all well-established Washington insiders—thought he had a chance of winning.

Even worse, if by some chance Reagan were elected president, the country would be doomed to four years of bad government, and quite possibly a shooting war with the Soviet Union, then flexing its muscles under the Carter presidency.

So I learned a lesson: the “insiders” aren’t reliable. You’re better off taking a hard look at would-be leaders. The key thing is character, and the key element of character, as Reagan demonstrated, is the ability to make decisions. And if, as will often happen, some decisions work out badly, then change it. Try something different.

Reagan did that twice in the early going. The first—changing his campaign team–reversed his bad fortune in the early primaries, the second—firing the federal air controllers who had gone on strike– rather astonishingly changed the world.

In 1980, right after winning the New Hampshire primary, he fired John Sears as campaign manager and replaced him with Casey, Wirthlin and Meese. And in his first months in office, he fired the air controllers after they voted to go on strike. We later learned that our friends, like Margaret Thatcher, werThere were other such moments, as when Reagan wouldn’t accept Gorbachev’s offer of nuclear arms reduction if only the United States would cancel missile defense. Like the first two, it turned out to be enormously important.

In addition to the ability to make decisions quickly and forcefully, I want my president to be attentive to their enforcement. The National Security Council serves this role in foreign policy. Under Reagan, when there were significant disagreements between State and Defense, the National Security Advisor arranged to have the two Cabinet secretaries debate the issue in front of the president, who usually decided the matter right then and there. It was up to the security council to make sure the president’s decision was carried out. Compare that with the procedure under, say, George W. Bush. When there were disagreements, the national security adviser (Rice, and later Hadley), convened a deputies’ meeting (not, as under Reagan, the principals), and the goal of the discussion was not to define the disagreements as clearly as possible, but to hammer out a compromise agreement. This often proved impossible. So nothing happened.

Obama is notoriously slow to arrive at a decision on such matters, and he often reverses field, as in the case of the Syrian “red line.” That leaves the system in disarray, maddens allies even more than the “wrong” decision, and convinces enemies they can do whatever they wish, since the president is forever trying to figure out what his policies are.

So give me a man or woman who will make decisions. I don’t want a brilliant intellectual so much as someone who will clearly define the mission and insist it be carried out.e greatly enthused to see that Reagan was so decisive. The Kremlin didn’t like it at all. It was a big “uh oh” moment for Comrade Brezhnev.

Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @michaelledeen