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Why Can't Bush Admit We've Failed in Iraq?

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President Bush delayed announcement of his "new" Iraq strategy until January. He's having trouble coming to grips with the reality that our troops are caught in a full-scale civil war and, therefore, there's nothing the US can do but get out. Why can't Bush admit we've failed? In the New York Review Mark Danner quotes a Presidential Directive, Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy Bush signed on August 29, 2002:
US goal: Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and associated programs, to prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond. End Iraqi threats to its neighbors, to stop the Iraqi government's tyrannizing of its own population, to cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism, to maintain Iraq's unity and territorial integrity. And liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and assist them in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy.... Objectives: To conduct policy in a fashion that minimizes the chance of a WMD attack against the United States, US field forces, our allies and friends. To minimize the danger of regional instabilities. To deter Iran and Syria from helping Iraq. And to minimize disruption in international oil markets.
The US hasn't met its goals and objectives: We haven't liberated the "Iraqi people from tyranny;" we've replaced the savagery of Saddam Hussein with a civil war. And, we haven't "minimize [d] the danger of regional instabilities" or deterred "Iran and Syria from helping Iraq." If we haven't met our intended goals and objectives after nearly four years of occupation, why does the President insist on "staying the course"? There are four possible explanations for his intransigence: The first is that Bush holds out hope that his goals and objectives can still be accomplished. He believes in perseverance. Nonetheless, another President, Lyndon Johnson, famously observed that no matter how hard your try, "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t." Trying harder can't salvage the occupation of Iraq; it's broken beyond repair. The second explanation is Bush's fear of the "danger of regional instabilities." He's afraid that if we leave, the government of Iraq will fail, there will be a full-scale civil war and, as a result, Sunnis will fight Shiites throughout the Middle East. There is a civil war in Iraq, but no indication it will spread. Bush also believes that if we leave "before the job is done," it would be seen as a victory for terrorists; Al Qaida would claim they'd forced us out. However, experts tell us that Al Qaida and foreign fighters represent a small percentage of the insurgency; these experts say that when we leave, locals will throw out the foreigners. Furthermore, this logic is being proffered by the same President who, in the run up to the war, assured Americans that after the invasion, Iraqis would greet us as liberators and, therefore, we didn't need a plan for the occupation. He didn't understand Iraq then and Americans have no reason to believe he does now. The third reason the President gives for not leaving Iraq has to do with America's Image. He believes acknowledging our failure would have a negative impact on our reputation: other nations will not take us seriously and, as a consequence, the world will be less safe. Of course, it's not clear that other nations take us seriously now, as we've failed to meet our goals and objectives for Iraq. There's a fourth explanation for why Bush refuses to admit we've failed in Iraq: he doesn't want to be labeled a "loser." While the President's attitude is understandable, it's not a sufficient reason for the US to stay in Iraq. Admitting we've failed has a big upside: It will hasten the return of our troops and dramatically reduce our Defense expenditures. It will permit the US to focus our energy on Afghanistan and the pursuit of Al Qaida. And, it should precipitate a major dialogue on homeland security; discussion of whether we are actually doing what need to do to protect ourselves. There's another important reason to admit we've failed in Iraq: we can't learn from our mistake unless we admit that we made one. One of the primary reasons Americans should acknowledge the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and the occupation a debacle, is that such an admission will lead us to ask provocative questions: why did the Bush Administration deceive us, why did Congress go along with this, and why was the press so acquiescent? In the final analysis, that's probably why Dubya remains intransigent on Iraq. He doesn't want to admit he made a series of ghastly mistakes, because that would open Pandora's box: Americans would insist on answers to a host of embarrassing questions about our Iraqi goals, objectives, and strategies. We'd want to understand why we failed in Iraq. Inevitably that inquiry would reach one conclusion: there was a failure of leadership by George W. Bush.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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