No Mistakes Were Made
Friday 12 July 2003
Haunted by his father s defeat and the accidental nature of his own presidency, Bush won t ever concede missteps on Iraq
July 11 - President Bush is certain he did the right thing by going to war in Iraq. Bush never second-guesses himself, a trait that permeates his administration and contains the seeds of his undoing.
How can Bush fix the mess in Iraq if he denies any missteps? This administration s unwillingness to ever admit a mistake makes it unlikely it will expand the force size in Iraq, take responsibility for the phony intelligence Bush touted as a prelude to war or eat enough humble pie to get military and financial help from other nations. The White House won t acknowledge anything that might chip away at Bush s commander-in-chief image. That s the nature of the reelection machine that Karl Rove has constructed in his role as Bush s consigliere. To admit flaws risks losing the luster of the wartime president.
Bush s insecurities are at the heart of it. Haunted by his father s defeat and the accidental nature of his own presidency, Bush never wants to hand his enemies ammunition. He can t let cracks appear or the whole edifice could crumble. The moment Bush landed on the USS Lincoln, he was caught in his own net of hubris. The juvenile taunt-"Bring em on"-diminishes the seriousness of sending men and women into an urban guerilla battle that nobody prepared them for. American soldiers in Iraq are going on the record with reporters to say how unhappy they are, and how vulnerable they feel. You don t do that in the military unless the conditions are dire.
How different it would have been if instead on May 1 Bush had delivered a sober speech from the Oval Office saying we have succeeded in the first phase of the war, followed by a candid assessment of what lay ahead. How different the tone and the context would be today. Instead we have Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flippantly dismissing America s European allies. NATO hasn t been consulted about helping with security and reconstruction in Iraq since December, three months before the war began. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified about the Coalition of the Willing, boasting about assistance from Eastern European countries. I m not interested in three Latvians in bio-chem suits," says California Democrat Ellen Tauscher. "I m interested in a Coalition of the Capable: countries with real skill sets, real burden-sharing and real checkbooks."
Administration officials have been strong-arming countries, so far without much success. The contributions have been largely ceremonial. There are foreign commitments for an additional 8,000 troops, a miniscule number compared to what s needed. The American taxpayers are paying the price for the way Bush went into Iraq, arrogant and alone. Under persistent questioning, Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraqis costing $3.9 billion a month. But he and others are vague about the administration s strategy, except to stay the course and admit no mistakes. "If they have a plan, why aren t they sharing it?" said a frustrated Senate Republican.
Democrats are getting over the fear of being branded traitors for challenging the administration. The revelation that Bush relied on a forged document to make his case for war has emboldened critics. Claiming that Iraq tried to buy uranium from the African country of Niger wasn t a judgment call. By the White House s own admission, it was a fraud, a lie. The envoy sent to investigate the intelligence in February 2002, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, sought out the information and informed the administration. The only question is how high up the food chain his report got. Did it stop at low-level officials as the White House claims, or did it go all the way to the president and vice president?
Wilson is not some wild-eyed lefty. He had experience in Iraq and North Africa, and completely understood his mission. He only revealed his identity a week ago in the face of continued insistence by the White House that it had no idea the documents were forged. CIA director George Tenet sent Wilson to Niger after Vice President Cheney asked for an investigation. Wilson asks why Cheney s office would demand this inquiry and not want to know the result. If Bush really was misled, wouldn t he want to know who embarrassed him? Who made him a liar? In a White House as obsessed with loyalty as this one, the fact that no heads rolled strongly indicates this could go all the way to Cheney, if not to Bush himself. Who knows how much Cheney tells the boss. Bush is not a detail guy. He may not have wanted to know.
The drip-drip of bad news from Iraq is reflected in the polls, though it does not yet pose a political problem for Bush. A majority of voters dismiss the wrangling over what Bush knew and when he knew it as partisan. But America s good name is under attack around the world, and Bush s credibility has foreign-policy consequences, making it much more difficult to undertake other interventions. The hawkish neocons who urged the war on Iraq are dismayed over what s happening because Iraq was supposed to be easy. "Iraq was the low-hanging fruit," says a Republican Senate aide, who backed the war. Taking down Saddam was a test case for the real thing, regime change in Iran. Now the administration is standing down on its rhetoric toward Iran, a welcome intrusion of reality in Bush s fantasy presidency.