Prudence and Presidential Ethics: The Decisions on Iraq of the Two Presidents Bush


J. Patrick Dobel is a professor of public affairs in the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. He is the author of Public Integrity and Compromise and Political Action, as well as numerous articles on management and public ethics.


A very exacting type of prudence is demanded of ethical and effective political leaders. It requires critical self-awareness, diligence in obtaining information and modifying one's conduct in light of it, and attentiveness to the fit and proportionality of means and ends. Although there are counterparts in personal life to these attributes, the prudence of political leaders has a further dimension because of their responsibility for the welfare of the polity, whether a city or an entire nation. The importance of political prudence in the U.S. presidency is illustrated by a comparative analysis of the decision-making processes regarding Iraq in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. The sharp contrasts between them suggest that prudence and other political virtues may be substantially independent of ideology, class, and social background.