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Posted by on Jan 11, 2007 in Politics, War | 28 comments

Bush Admits He Made Mistakes In Iraq War And Asks For New Support (UPDATED)

NOTE: Due to the importance of this story we are keeping this post at the top out of order. Newer posts are underneath it, so keep scrollilng.

President George Bush delivered his long-awaited speech on what had been billed in advance as a “new direction” for Iraq and there was something particularly new. This comment:

“Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me.”

Up until now, there has been little admission from the President or the White House of mistakes. Question: will this boost what polls show is his lowered credibility with the American people or will this make it worse?

Bush’s speech lived up to his advanced billing: he plans a 22,000 surge (escalation) of U.S. troops to help the Iraqi’s secure Baghdad and other violence-threatend areas. These troops will help the Iraqis keep an area secure once it has been “cleaned out.” He argues that securing Iraq is vital in the War on Terror, and plans a huge infusion of American money to bolster the country’s sagging reconstruction efforts. Bush also talked about a new bipartisan group and mentioned one name as evidence of its bipartisan nature: independent Senator Joe Lieberman. That may not be convincing to all war critics.

The New York Times (linked above) has this as its lead on the speech:

President Bush announced tonight that he was sending more than 20,000 American troops to Iraq to quell the sectarian violence there, as he conceded for the first time that he had provided neither enough troops nor enough resources to halt the country’s descent into chaos over the past year, and that he had pursued a strategy based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the power of the shaky Iraqi government.

Question: how will this play among various groups of Americans such as:

  • Republicans who have supported the administration and gone after those who have criticized the justification and implementation of the war as being mean-spirited, strictly-partisan or unpatriotic. It now turns out Bush is admitting that much of this criticism was well-founded.
  • Democrats who have not liked Mr. Bush for some time. Does this mean they will trust him less or give him a bit more of a benefit of the doubt.
  • Independent voters who gave Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt but have been deserting him in droves, according to almost every recent poll.The Times also noted something many commentators on television seemingly missed: there was no indication from Bush that this increase is for a short duration. If anything, the tone was that America is there FOR the duration until Iraq can take over for itself. Which could, theoretically, mean for many years:

    Mr. Bush’s speech to the nation differed sharply in tone and substance from his previous insistence that the United States was making progress toward building a workable Iraqi democracy. The president described his new strategy as an effort to “change America’s course in Iraq.� But he gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived, and he acknowledged that a renewed effort aimed at bringing security to Baghdad would also bring about more American and Iraqi casualties.

    Additionally, the Times report underscores the political context of this speech, which leaves Bush one of the most isolated wartime Presidents in all of American history:

    But he rejected all calls to begin a withdrawal from Iraq, arguing that the strategies advocated by newly empowered Democrats, restive Republicans and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group were a formula for deepening disaster.

    “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government…Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal,â€? he said. “If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.â€?

    The AP also notes Bush’s historical isolation — an isolation that history buffs will note exceeds that of the oft-cited Harry Truman:

    The buildup puts Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress and pushes the American troop presence in Iraq toward its highest level. It also runs counter to widespread anti-war passions among Americans and the advice of some top generals….

    …After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush’s last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.

    As Bush spoke for 20 minutes from the unusual setting of the White House library, the sounds of protesters amassed outside the compound’s gates occasionally filtered through.

    Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness — and ability — to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.”

    Look for Bush to be under fire from right and left in the days to come. From the left (and center) for ignoring the vast array of institutional and public opinion forces opposed to his course. From the right: from those who feel the surge is really not enough to make a difference — because the kind of HUGE surge that could make a difference would be impossible politically.

    But his biggest problem is that there may be a huge element now of “Bush fatigue” — and many Americans (who aren’t named Rush or Sean or have talk shows) may tune him out. LBJ, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan at various points in their terms faced the same problem.

    Meanwhile, a Newsweek column titled “A Stagger, More Than A Surge,” notes that many are missing the fact that

    Bush is indeed setting some “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government:
    The White House expects all the new troops to be deployed in Iraq. But they won’t go until the Iraqis have met several conditions–or benchmarks–to get the extra help they say they need.

    Chief among those benchmarks is that the Iraqi government follows through on its own security plan, announced on Saturday. That means Iraqi troops need to report for duty, sweep through neighborhoods regardless of sectarian interests, and follow a clear chain of command that leads to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The White House expects that could take as long as six months, making the ramp-up of troops more of a stagger than a surge.

    The administration is also giving benchmarks to the prime minister himself. Maliki needs to move forward with his own promises of reconciliation, especially when it comes sharing oil revenues between the regions, and rehabilitating former Baath Party members.

    White House officials are keen to portray the new policy as a compromise between two extremes. On one side are the John McCains of the world, demanding big numbers of new troops for extended periods in Iraq. On the other side are the antidependency Democrats, demanding a phased withdrawal, or a timetable for withdrawal, to shock the Iraqis into action. (The White House dismisses the third option of rapid withdrawal as simply a form of defeat.)

    The problem for Bush and the White House: polls show that the public is now more on the side of the Democrats (and Republicans who have broken with the White House on the war) than on the side of the John McCains, Joe Liebermans or Sean Hannitys.

    So in the end the speech may be seen as one that helped to re-solidify his support among his sagging base, but not do much to gain support in areas where he needs it most: among critics in Congress, military leaders who disagree (who haven’t been retired yet) and Republicans such as members of his father’s administration (keep an eye on Colin Powell).

    Some thoughts:

    Warning Americans that they will see carnage on their screens because terrorists and insurgents want to discourage the U.S. will do no good. There will have to be progress — soon and sustained — if this is to be judged a success.

    With 2008 approaching, how many Republicans will be willing to fall on their political swords to support his White House’s Iraq policy if it shows this is not working?

    BUSH’S ARGUMENT ABOUT IRAQ AS A DEMOCRATIC ROLE MODEL FOR THE MIDDLE EAST MAY BE SOUND CONCEPTUALLY: But it may be impossible to pull off without an open-ended American commitment in terms of lives and treasure. There’s no sign the public would allow it — certainly not beyond the 2008 elections.

    BUSH MAY HAVE ONE MORE SHOT (IF THIS MUCH) IF THIS FAILS: He might have to come back and urge more troops or a different approach.

    BUSH IS PROBABLY CORRECT ABOUT INSURGENTS AND TERRORISTS WHO’LL WANT TO INCREASE THE AMERICAN BODY COUNT: Oliver North said it last week. More American troops mean more targets. But that will NOT matter IF the Iraq government has its political, military, and intelligence services acts together. A big IF.

    The question is whether his solution is an actual solution or will just increase the American body count while the larger Iraq security issue is either not solved or possibly not subject to solution.

    BUSH IS WISE TO HAVE A NEW WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: It’s clear there will be constant demands for documentation and justification for not just past aspects of the war, but any future requests. And these will accelerate if the new plan does not bring quick and sustained progress.

    The news media will want to see how this is working.

    WATCH HOTSPOTS ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD: The danger is going to be that with a stretched, overextended and perhaps tired American military, some leaders in countries unfriendly to the United States might feel it’s a time to exert their political muscle…either in small ways or in larger ways. Will there be a perception that the U.S. is pinned down in Iraq with a leader who enjoys little support at home? If Bush’s polls continue to slide, this is a real danger.

    THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADERSHIP WILL BE UNDER PRESSURE: The party’s far left will increasingly demand a quicker exit.

    The bottom line: Bush has the power to order and implement this change. If it works and proves to be more than a flash in the pan, his political clout will increase as part of his credibility — he will likely never regain it from some quarters — is restored. If it proves to be a short-lived boost or a disaster he will basically be warming the Oval Office seat for his remaining term at the White House.

    In a sense, Bush may be back to where he was months ago. He’s President of the United States in name, but in terms of public (and even institutional) support he is more President of the base, by the base and for the base. And he now has a reduced base.


    (1)Our coblogger Michael Stickings’s live-blogging on the speech HERE.
    (2) Our coblogger Polimom’s post on the speech HERE.

    See our post HERE on a new poll that shows most Americans reject the surge idea.
    Also: See our cobblogger Shaun Mullen’s MUST READ and HIGHLY-COMPELLING post on his own blog HERE (wrong link now FIXED) Even people who don’t agree with Shaun will find lots of food for serious thought.

    Bush’s last stand: stability in Iraq, credibility in US
    Text of Joint Statement From Democrats
    Editorial Response to Iraq Plan: ‘NYT’ Not Convinced, More to Follow
    Newsweek’s Howard Fineman gives a brutal reaction:

    George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war.

    (Hillary) Clinton: Bush Has Not Gotten The Message
    Analysis: Bush speech draws lines
    ANALYSIS-Bush defies public opinion, Democrats on Iraq troops
    Military Analysis: Bid to secure Baghdad relies on troops and Iraqi leaders


    Andrew Sullivan:

    He will do what he wants, of course. Even if the bulk of his own party balks, along with the Democrats. Even if the casualties mount, and the civil war intensifies. Even if failure becomes more and more entrenched. The logic of his speech is that we can never let go of this disaster, that it is our fate for the rest of our lives, and that his job is merely to pass it on – deadlier than ever – to whichever unlucky sap gets to inherit his office.

    To back this anemic reponse to the escalating civil war requires us to abandon our empirical sense and the lessons of the past four years. To back it requires us to trust this president as a competent, deft and determined leader. Do you? Can you? At this point? After all we have seen?

    –The always MUST-READ Ed Morrissey (an independent-thinking conservative) did detailed live blogging. An excerpt:”…Bush challenged his opposition to explain in their criticisms how they will succeed in Iraq using a different strategy, couched in gracious terms. In effect, he’s saying that failure and defeat should not be options, and he’s right…..A nice finish to the speech, and a journeyman effort in delivering it tonight. Will it change minds? I don’t think it will have that much effect.”

    Sideways Mencken:

    The speech was much worse than I expected. I’ll be surprised if it moves polls up two points. I won’t be surprised if it drops the polls five points. I think this was a disastrous speech. Mr. Bush looked like he was making a hostage tape and he sounded an awful lot like he was announcing an open-ended expansion of the war into Iran and Syria. The same old warnings, the same 911 nonsense, more eye-rolling promises of Iraqi government behavior. No real acceptance of personal responsibility or mistakes. Non-credible promises of bi-partisnaship. Vague talk of expanding the army and recruiting civilians into . . . what, exactly?

    Bogus Gold has a fascinating post-speech messages for Republican partisans, Democratic partisans and the rest of (us) them. READ IT IN FULL since to quote it ruins the context.

    PeakTalk says Bush was “sincere but strained”:

    That is probably the best way to describe Bush’s speech last night. Yes, Bush was at his most sincere and honest, trying to connect with both American and Iraqi people in order to come clean about past failures and get some buy-in for this last ditch effort. The best illustration was probably the disavowal of the â€?Mission Accomplishedâ€? ceremony by stating that “there will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleshipâ€?. But strained too. The failures in Iraq have put the president well beyond the boundaries of his comfort zone and it showed, painfully.

    The question is why this act of penance combined with a new plan arrived this late in the game. And, given the timing we are now looking at, a fairly risky strategy based largely on only a marginally bankable Iraqi government…..

    Blue Crab Boulevard: “The President has acted in his capacity as Commander in Chief, one of his primary constitutional responsibilities. Frankly, he also short-circuited a vote by the opposition against the plan, here. They can vote against this and look like defeatists, even in a “symbolic” vote, or they can support the goal of American victory in this war we are all in. They cannot have it both ways with a vote this time. The last line is the most important, I think.”

    –Even Fox’s Britt Hume couldn’t praise Bush’s speech-making skills on this one. Watch the video at Crooks & Liars.

    Hugh Hewitt:

    President Bush was at his best tonight: serious, detailed, and above all, resolute. He spoke to many audiences.To the public weary and grieved by the death of many of the finest Americans, the president spoke of the crucial issue: “For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.” It isn’t, he explained repeatedly, just about giving Iraqis hope, but maintaining American security for all of the reasons he detailed. Iraqis who desire peace heard the commitment, but they also heard its contingent nature: The Iraqi government has run out of time to dodge the tough choices.


    He’s lost key members of his party, and will continue to bleed support in the coming months and years. John McCain (who, incidentally, wasn’t mentioned in the speech by Bush) now owns this war. That won’t do him any favors in a 2008 general election. This was his idea. The repercussions (and they won’t be pretty) will be his to bear. Republicans up for tough reelections will have to tread that dangerous line between party loyalty and political self-preservation. Many, like Lincoln Chafee, Jim Talent, George Allen, Conrad Burns and 20+ House Republicans last November will fail.

    It’s military insanity, foisted upon a reluctant Joint Chiefs of Staff and military brass. It’s political insanity, as we’ll see soon enough from those endangered Republican incumbents. And it’s moral insanity, as yet more of our men and women in uniform sent to that hell in the desert in order to attempt to salvage George Bush’s pride and bolster John McCain’s primary chances.


    I support this policy, but with fear and trembling. It worries me very much that the Democrats have a vested political interest in its failure (which is not to say that many of them, and quite a few Republicans, don’t sincerely believe that it just can’t work). Opposing the war at this point is the politically safe course. The demonstrators shouting outside the White House during the speech make you wonder if there’s finally going to be an antiwar movement in the streets.

    The president can do what he wants, but will the money be there? Will the Democrats be able and willing to block funding? John Warner calls this the biggest challenge that the Senate has had [in the 29 years] since I’ve been there.” Suddenly the much-discussed and lamented division of the country up to now seems like nothing but a dress rehearsal.

    Dean Esmay: “Ah, it was a fine speech. Meantime, the Democratic response, officially given by Senator Durbin of Illinois…. Hmm. It appears to be that they aren’t putting enough new troops in Iraq, so they don’t want any more troops. Hrrm. Whatever. Coherence is hardly their strong suit.”

    James on My Space: “Not once did Bush even pretend to address the issue of whether 20,000 troops would be enough. He just assumed it would, and waxed on and on about how great it will be once order is restored in Baghdad (pssst, buddy: 200,000 may not be enough extra troops at this point). This was his last chance to convince me that having a wee bit o’ hope about the future of Iraq is justified, and if you can’t tell, he didn’t succeed.”

    Sister Toldjah: “I especially liked it when he told those who have ‘different’ views on his plan to explain why their plan would equate to success for and in Iraq, directly putting Democrats who want to cut and run on the hot seat – because you can’t equate cutting and running to ’success’ in Iraq, just ’success’ for Democrats. In the prepared Democratic response, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin didn’t explain how his party’s plan for Iraq equated to ’success’ for anybody other than the Democratic party.”


    Gun Toting Liberal:

    Although, the war (as far as I am concerned) was OVER , with ALL “pre-sold� military objectives having been accomplished by the time Saddam was pulled out of his cave and turned over to the Iraqis to face justice, it was ended with an EXCLAMATION MARK the other day when the Iraqis practically decapitated the evil bastard at the end of a rope. And today, the President is STILL trying to convince us the war is not over yet; that he needs more of our tax dollars to be thrown into his black hole of a money pit, and more importantly, countless more valuable American lives to be wasted in those dispicable sand dunes.

    Americablog:”Oh my God, he’s giving us everything but the kitchen sink. The speech is far too long and far too micro-managed. We don’t need to know every single detail. We need a clear message, a clear strategy, clear evidence that this time will be the last time Bush comes and tells us his latest greatest idea for winning the war. And we’re not getting that from this speech.”

    Winds of Change’s Cicero:

    The President’s Iraq plan assumes that there is a cogent, non-sectarian, uncorrupted Iraqi national government to partner with. I propose that this is an illusion, laid bare by Saddam’s mob-like execution at the hands of revenging Shi’a. There is no real national government in Iraq that represents all the factions. I don’t believe it is possible at this hour.

    We’re pouring 20,000 more of our forces to go “door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents”. Translation: We’re going to unwittingly assist one side of this sectarian conflict suppress the other. We will be taking sides in a conflict that goes back more than a millennium.


    And here’s feature that has Cheney and Rove’s fingerprints all over it: The additional troops were already starting to move before the speech began. Obviously they can’t ship all 20,000 out this evening (much as they might like to), but this is clearly meant to create symbolic leverage against the majority party in Congress: Whereas yesterday Pelosi, Kennedy, et al., could draw the distinction between supporting the troops already on the ground and withholding support for a planned escalation, today Bush and his ever-dwindling pool of supporters can retort that withholding funding for the escalation also undermines troops already on the ground in Iraq. It is a pretty specious argument, true, but given that even tonight the mainstream media are still following Bush in calling this escalation a “surge,” I’m sure they can be counted upon to bring this “undermining the troops” claim up, in the name of “balance.”

    A Right Angle:

    I believe that President Bush pushed back the Democrats’ calls to cut and run. He hit the Democrats head on, detailing what would happen if we pulled out of Iraq. Still, the leftists urged the president not to send more troops, claiming that Bush is heading down the same path – a failed path….

    …Democrats keep crying out, “But the American People are against staying in Iraq.”

    The American People, then, are wrong.

    Good thing Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Harry Truman refused to listen to the loudest protests during their efforts, or we would be a very different nation, or a number of divided nations.

    At Largely has a detailed analysis. Here’s a small part of it:

    Translation: war with Iran.

    Three key points:

    1). The President has apparently admitted that we did nothing to secure the peace, provide the Iraqis with jobs, rebuild the infrastructure, and basically spent our money god knows where.

    2). We are going to attack Iran and Syria, make no mistake.

    3). Lied about Afghanistan, Al Qaeda levels in Iraq, Al Qaeda document, about the successes in Iraq, about the role this war has played in creating the very violence he is now trying to stop.

    The Talking Dog:

    This is simply a game to run out the clock. Any possible legitimacy in his pitch (and indeed, any reason not to introduce articles of impeachment) was undermined by his insistence on mentioning September 11th, and fairly early.

    The “mission” is about Bush himself, whether that means trying to diss Daddy and Daddy’s emissary Jim Baker for trying adult supervision, or whether this is some mad “last throw of the dice”… or, of course, what we all know it is… running out the clock by keeping Iraq a chaotic, insanely violent s——- that won’t pump oil competitive with Saudi for years, if not decades (and in any event, to the rest of his term), Bush looked and sounded awful… for those who said he had to pitch a perfect game… let’s just say he didn’t even pitch anything remotely resembling a good game.

    Powerline’s John Hinderaker was unimpressed:

    In the past, I’ve often said that President Bush has been more effective in televised speeches than he has been given credit for. Not tonight. I thought he came across as stiff, nervous, and anxious to get it over with. The importance of the issue seemed to overwhelm the President’s ability to communicate. I suspect that only a few listeners absorbed more than a general impression of what the new strategy is all about.

    Which may be just as well. Words at this point mean little. Most Americans want us to win in Iraq. Most will be willing to give the new plan a chance to work, whether they understand what it is or not. All depends on the success of the new approach.

    The problem, in my view, continues to be the difficulty of defining “success.” As the President warned, even if the new approach is “successful,” our television screens will be filled with scenes of violence. But that is precisely what, until now, has been defined as failure.

    Kevin Drum: “It took me a couple of minutes to digest this, but there’s nothing even remotely new here at all. Almost to the letter, it’s the same stuff we’ve been trying for the past three years, except with about 10% more troops than before. Does Bush really think the American public is going to find any of this very convincing?”

    The Heretik’s post The Staggering Reality must be read in full. Quoting it would ruin the context.

    Right Wing News:

    (Bush) Summary: I liked this speech a lot because it revealed a workable plan, it gave people a key date to watch (Nov, 2007 for the Iraqis to takeover), and it did seem to explain the point of the surge. I love the fact that he told the Iraqi government that they have gotta move on these militias, they’ve got to fulfill their promises. He also warned Iraq and Syria. Great. Not a great delivery, but it seldom is with Bush. All in all, B+…

    Durbin Summary: If Bush is saying, “We need until November to get the Iraqis taking over the policing of their country,” how do you even come back and demand that we give up now and leave the Iraqis to die? Bush is at least offering up a hope for victory and Durbin is offering nothing but a dishonorable surrender to the terrorists. I think it’s pretty clear which policy makes more sense.

    Talk Left:”Democrats are upset, among other things, at Bush’s lack of consultation with them over the plan. By the time he met with them, the plan was a fait accompli.”

    Harper’s Mews:

    If these new troops do not do the job, and if the Iraqi government cannot assert its authority and begin stabilizing its own country, President Bush will truly create a legacy — one even less savory than that which he faces currently. He, if not his successor, will be forced to pull out of Iraq by the Congress, whether controlled by left or right, and we will watch another country degenerate from potential ally to long-term enemy, with a memory of American interference — and this time with a desire for vengeance that will not disappear for several generations. Let us hope — let us pray — that this is the right choice.

    Matthew Yglesias: “The other, and even more important, new thing is that Bush seems to be saying here that he intends to start one or two new wars…It’s hard to see how will do these things without launching military attacks on Iran or Syria. He goes on to talk about how he “ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region” and, of course, he put a Navy guy in charge of CENTCOM.”

    –Political Scientist Steven Taylor “live blogged” the speech and it is a MUST read. One commment:”I must confess, the rhetoric is tired at this point, as it all very similar to things has been said for years, but yet we are not accomplishing our goals and it is highly unclear that we will be able to do so.”

    –Wonkette does some “live blogging,” too…but with a slightly different tone.


    Does anyone in the land of the free actually believe the issue in Iraq is democracy vs. terror, instead of Shi’ite against Sunni? Who among us is dunderheaded enough to accept at face value the proposition that Syria and Iran have armed and trained the “terrarists” in Iraq?

    And I doubt that even Joe Lieberman would agree that reaching out to Joe Lieberman qualifies as bipartisanship.

    Donald Sensing (a former military man): “The question is not whether we will “step back,â€? but how severely we are willing to step forward.”


    Here is your assignment, should you decide to accept it. Read this article by Sidney Blumenthal about how Bush called the Baker Hamilton report a “flaming turd” and how Condoleeza Rice was their last best hope to keep the spoiled little prince from holding his breath until he turns blue. She failed.

    Your second assignment is to read these two stories about the Cheney cabal.

    Then come back here and we’ll start a pool on when the Iran action is going to officially begin, ok?


    I was impressed by the speech. I thought the President struck the correct tone, explained the plan sufficiently for viewers to follow along, and provided enough details for them to decide for themselves whether or not they believe the plan deserves a shot…..I am sure there will be much debate over various components of the plan and the bi-partisan advisory group he mentioned, which will include Joe Lieberman, will most likely be attacked vigorously by many Democrats. If the plan is implemented and works, the President will be criticized for not changing course earlier. What we will have to wait to see is whether or not the President is able to move public opinion any over the next few weeks. Some of that will depend upon how the media covers this change in course. The next big speech will be the State of the Union address. Stay tuned.

    Be Sure To Also Read These Posts On This Site About The Speech Written By TMV’s Co-Bloggers:
    The fundamental question by Jack Grant
    It Could Work by Marc Schulman
    All-In on the Short Stack in Iraq by Jason Steck
    A Reluctant Surge Supporter by Paul Silver