Thursday, January 11, 2007

Getting it Wrong

It's tough to be wrong, but it's tougher to deny an obvious truth.

I'm speaking of myself, of course, and my naive hopes that President Bush was just giving his opponents no satisfaction before deciding to reduce the US military presence in Iraq as rapidly as possible.

But I could just as easily be speaking of Bush, who, despite the clear logic of the Iraq Study Group's analysis and, perhaps most importantly, strong opposition by the U.S electorate to raise troop levels, thinks the best way to bring an end to US military involvement in Iraq is by first increasing it.

Americans support folly and even things they don't understand -- if they have confidence in their leader. Sometimes that requires a leader to admit to fallibility. Bush has perhaps never come closer to this than in these woefully inadequate 10 words in his Iraq speech:
"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."
Is this the way to begin to re-build consensus? I doubt many hearts and minds will be swayed by an undeniable truth masquerading as a concession: the commander (decider) in chief is responsible for everything -- including, as the statement seems to imply, the mistakes of underlings and allies. After all, the only other reference to mistakes in the speech is this:
"There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."
Given his past assurances to always give the generals on the ground everything they wanted, the first mistake must be theirs, which is nonsensical. The second is, of course, by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is absolutely true.

If the purpose of Bush's speech was to sell an unpopular policy that was already irretrievably in motion I doubt this lackluster statement of the obvious and shifting of blame will do. All it seems to underscore is how unreliable Iraq's government can be.

It is hard to believe that even the president's most ardent supporters do not now, after all, see the Iraq escapade for what it is.

The stated purpose of attacking Iraq was self-defense against a nation-state (no need to go into how disingenuous this was) but we are now trapped in a guerrilla war involving feuding neighbors and opportunistic outside instigators with nothing to lose in an urban setting filled with innocents. This is a war our leaders did not foresee, denied was developing, failed to adapt to quickly enough and now do not have a strategy to either end or escape.

This is a recipe for disaster, but it is a disaster the United States must face. The only way to get support for any new initiatives is to acknowledge a history of being wrong about a great many things, the better to inspire confidence about future assertions.

As tough as it may be, without a mea culpa moment there really is no way out, at home or in Iraq. This administration needs to say it blundered us into a quagmire before it can believably add, but now we know what we are doing.

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