Yesterday, President Bush gave an unusual speech in Akron, Ohio. In an effort to regain some credibility, he admitted that, during the execution of the war in Iraq, he and the administration made mistakes.
He told a story of how our forces drove out terrorists in Tal Afar, but they came back only a month later and controlled the city for almost a year.
Tal Afar is a city of more than 200,000 residents, roughly the population of Akron, Ohio. In many ways, Tal Afar is a microcosm of Iraq: It has dozens of tribes of different ethnicity and religion. Most of the city residents are Sunnis of Turkmen origin…
By September 2004, the terrorists and insurgents had basically seized control of Tal Afar.
We recognized the situation was unacceptable. So we launched a military operation against them. After three days of heavy fighting, the terrorists and the insurgents fled the city. Our strategy at the time was to stay after the terrorists and keep them on the run. So coalition forces kept moving, kept pursuing the enemy and routing out the terrorists in other parts of Iraq.
Unfortunately, in 2004 the local security forces there in Tal Afar weren’t able to maintain order, and so the terrorists and the insurgents eventually moved back into the town… By November 2004, two months after our operation to clear the city, the terrorists had returned to continue their brutal campaign of intimidation.
President Bush then observed how Iraqi forces, taking the lead but backed by coalition forces, were able to restore lasting order to Tal Afar. Today, Bush claims, Tal Afar is a safe place with children playing in the streets.
Let’s assume Bush’s success story is true. For the sake of the Iraqi people and our soldiers, I sure hope it is. I am thrilled that we may have discovered, years into the war, a strategy that may finally lead to success.
What concerns me is that the administration has failed so often and almost everywhere else in Iraq and, finally, with one success, Mr. Bush tries to restore confidence in his administration’s ability to execute this war. His speech (finally) admits to failed missions and lack of progress, even if he is trying to show the American people that there has been progress. Admitting mistakes doesn’t erase them. If I accidentally drive into your car because I was playing with my cell phone, I can’t tell my insurance company, “[listen,] strategy that worked so well in
Tal Afar [all my other driving] did not emerge overnight — it came only after much trial and error. It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq [fact that there were other cars on the road]. Yet the strategy is working.” I will still have to pay the deductible and see my insurance bills increase. And we will still pay for the costs of Bush’s mistakes in tax dollars and lost lives.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, though, whether Bush acknowledges missteps or not. It doesn’t matter that he is finally getting around to it now. What matters is that, at nearly every point in this war in Iraq, the administration’s lack of planning has resulted in cost overruns, a strengthened insurgency, casualties, and thousands of lost lives.
Many supporters of Bush trust him for his straight talk. Yesterday he actually did start talking straight, admitting failure, even if he was only trying to highlight eventual success. But I am more impressed by his performance than his talk, and my impression is of a president who has mishandled this war. If President Bush learns from his mistakes and we really can leave Iraq a success, I will be thrilled for him. In the meantime, I’ll believe in what happens, not what the administration thinks about it. If he keeps making mistakes, whether he admits them or not, maybe we’ll have to take his license away.