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Robert Schlesinger

Robert Schlesinger

Posted: December 14, 2005 09:59 PM

Reports of Bush's Contrition Have Been Greatly Exaggerated


Don’t be fooled by the press reports: President Bush did not admit any personal mistakes Wednesday.

What he did was reaffirm that he was right -- regardless of other people’s mistakes.

Give him credit for consistency: He hasn’t even changed his logic. Originally, Iraq and Saddam Hussein were described as an imminent threat: At any moment, Saddam Hussein might open up his chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear stockpile to his al Qaeda buddies. We would have to strike first and eliminate his regime before this could happen. The stakes were too high to wait. (It wasn’t clear why Iraq was alone in the cross-hairs when other countries – Iran – fit that threat more plausibly.)

Fast forward two-and-a-half years: We now know that the intelligence was wrong – and that in some cases, the Bush administration even pushed the boundaries of that bad info. There were no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. There were no al Qaeda connections. This is not news.

But it is apparently news to Bush: Months, if not years, after everyone else figured out that there were intelligence mistakes, Bush finally stepped up and admitted … that other people had fed him bad info.

Bush said:

And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq -- and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that. At the same time, we must remember that an investigation after the war by chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer found that Saddam was using the U.N. oil-for-food program to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions, with the intent of restarting his weapons programs once the sanctions collapsed and the world looked the other way. Given Saddam's history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat -- and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power.

Or, roughly translated: ‘Other people made mistakes. And I’m responsible for fixing those mistakes. And I am. But my decision to take the country to war was correct in spite of their mistakes, because at some unspecified point in the possible future, Saddam might have actually gotten chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and at that point might have decided to hand them over to al Qaeda friends he might make down the road. We had to strike first and eliminate his regime before this could happen. The stakes were too high to wait.’

When the nation’s policy is to wage preventive war (not, as many call it, pre-emptive war), one doesn’t need a threat to actually exist – one only needs to believe that at some future point it could exist.