If George W. Bush was the Decider who relied mostly on gut instinct as U.S. president, Barack Obama has shown himself to be the Deliberator.

But eight months after taking office, Obama is facing growing questions from political friends and foes about a decision-making style that critics say is often marked by too much caution and compromise and not enough resolve.

The debate has escalated as Obama grapples with two issues expected to define his presidency at home and abroad -- the overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system and the future of America's involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

Obama's aides insist he is acting pragmatically -- with what the Democratic president once called deliberate haste -- as he tackles a broad range of problems mostly inherited from his Republican predecessor.

They see Obama's consensus-building as the antidote to eight years of Bush, who drew criticism for making major policy decisions like the 2003 invasion of Iraq based on limited or faulty information and then for refusing to change course.

We should have learned as a country that you want the president to make smart, reasoned decisions based on fact and not to make rash decisions that are more about instinct, Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, told Reuters.

But Obama is now feeling the pressure, at least in part because of the soaring rhetoric and bold promises for change that propelled him to power, raising what analysts see as unrealistic expectations.

After launching his presidency with a frenzy of activity ranging from a financial industry bailout to an automaker rescue package, Obama has been slowed not only by the realities of governing but by his own meticulous approach, analysts say.

When you're as risk-averse as President Obama, when you consult as widely as he does, you opt for caution and often make middle-of-the-road choices, said Stephen Wayne, a presidential historian at Georgetown University. That means people on the left and the right inevitably will be unhappy.


The evidence can be found in a rising din of complaints from across the political spectrum, including from some of Obama's own allies.

Does Obama have the backbone? was the headline of political commentator Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post Tuesday questioning whether he was ready to make tough choices about the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan.

Conservative critics accuse Obama of dithering over a grim assessment by the top U.S. and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who says a change of strategy and tens of thousands more troops are needed to stave off failure.

This should not be a leisurely process, Obama's former Republican presidential rival John McCain told him pointedly at a White House meeting with lawmakers earlier this week.

Aides counter that Obama shares that sense of urgency but will take several weeks to craft the correct strategy on whether to put more U.S. troops in harm's way. 

The fact that it takes some time to think this through is not unusual, it's appropriate, Axelrod said, adding that Obama paid no heed when the Greek chorus in Washington questioned his resolve as commander-in-chief.

Complicating matters, Obama is facing resistance to higher troop levels from some fellow Democrats, concerned that what he had portrayed as a good war, compared to Bush's highly unpopular Iraq campaign, could become a Vietnam-like quagmire.

It is Obama's second Afghan review since taking office, and critics say further delay sends a message of U.S. uncertainty.

Another test of Obama's leadership is healthcare reform, his top domestic priority. Some on the left complain he has given up too much to ease the concerns of fiscally conservative Democrats and seek at least minimal Republican support.

Though Obama remains popular among liberals -- a key base of his support in last November's election -- many are upset he has not pushed harder for the Democratic-controlled Congress to include a government-run health insurance option.

His action so far has not matched his campaign rhetoric, said Jane Hamsher, founder of the progressive political blog firedoglake.com. That's frustrating.


Even the popular comedy show Saturday Night Live, known for a generally liberal perspective, has critiqued Obama's record. A recent skit had an Obama impersonator ticking off a checklist of unfilled promises.

From the right, critics are questioning whether Obama is giving too much ground internationally, something Axelrod dismissed as a wrong-headed view that U.S. foreign policy should be based on bravado instead of brains.

They have accused him of caving to Russian pressure in scrapping a Bush-era missile defense plan for Eastern Europe, raising concerns in the region about the U.S. security commitment. The White House denies any concessions to Moscow.

Though Obama has coaxed Iran into talks about its disputed nuclear program, his administration has settled for something less than full compliance with Western demands. Some analysts believe Tehran may just be stringing Washington along.

During last year's election campaign, Obama's aides played up his calm No-Drama Obama image to help reassure nervous voters.

Since taking office, his consensus-building at home and multilateralism overseas have contrasted sharply with the approach taken by Bush, who famously declared himself the Decider and was widely criticized for intransigence.

Analysts say it is too early to judge Obama's record. But many agree that even though his approach can drag out the process, it is still the better way to craft sound policy.

When a president is dealing with such extraordinarily complex situations, it's more important that you get it right than do it fast, said Anthony Cordesman, a foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

(Editing by Patricia Wilson and David Storey)