Bush Admits Mistakes, Says Troop Levels Not Among Them
President Bush admitted mistakes in Iraq War planning in a Q&A session yesterday, but said that he would not change the troop levels if he had it to do over again.
President Bush today said mistakes were made in planning for the Iraq invasion, but he defended the troop level he ordered in the initial strike, saying he would have committed the same number if given a second chance. Recalling his pre-war conversations with Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion and is now retired, Bush told a business group in Irvine, Calif.: “The level that he suggested was the troop level necessary to do the job, and I support it strongly.”
The president, taking questions from members of the Orange County Business Council, also defended his decision to mount the war, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Asked if he would have invaded Iraq, knowing what he knows now, Bush said: “We’re constantly adjusting on the ground to meet an enemy which changes. But on the big decisions of sending the troops in, I’d have done it again.”
This is an odd stance to take, since it defies conventional wisdom and because the war plan demonstrably called for sending in substantially more troops but was thwarted by the Turkish parliament. Still, even the reduced troop level was more than adequate for the initial “major combat operations” phase. It was when it turned to nation building and counterinsurgency that things went awry.
Bush said the United States erred in attempting large reconstruction projects soon after the invasion was completed. “It didn’t make any sense” undertaking these projects because “they became convenient targets for the enemy,” he said. ” . . . I’m getting down in minutiae. But there are some tactics that, when I look back, that would have done differently.”
That’s almost certainly true although, ironically, one of the great criticisms is that we have been slow to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. From a sheer public relations standpoint, therefore, I’m not sure we could have postponed the effort.
He also said the United States underestimated the nature of the threats U.S. and Iraqi forces would find inside the country. “You know, every war plan is perfect until it meets the enemy — and it’s fine on paper until you actually start putting it into practice,” he said. ” . . . Decisions, you know, like preparing an Iraqi army for an external threat. Well, it turns out there may have been an external threat but it’s nothing compared to the internal threat.”
That one is a head scratcher. Indeed, by the time we got around to training Iraqi forces, it was quite obvious that there was an immediate, internal threat.
This will likely generate a lot of buzz:
Later, Bush said: “I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there’s an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free.”
That this concept is at the core of the American experience, including the premise of the Declaration of Independence, will not stop critics from interpreting this a Bush getting his foreign policy direction from God.