Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Time to Regret

"There is a time for everything," the Teacher mused. "And a season for every activity under the heaven." The Bush administration has uprooted, it has built, it has laughed and danced, it has spoken and it has hated, and now it has entered the time for regret.

"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," President Bush reflected in an interview last week. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein."

Today his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed her boss's sentiments when she said, "I would give anything to be able to go back and to know precisely what we were going to find when we were there."

As the sun sets on what many are already calling one of the worst tenures in presidential history, administration officials, starting with former members Richard Clark and Scott McClellan, have been using the media as a cathartic outlet, repenting and regretting in front of the public that has long since lost interest in what they have to say.

Ever since the 2006 mid-term elections, it has been obvious that the American public was miles ahead of the Bush administration. Consider that at the time Donald Rumsfeld was still Secretary of Defense. He has few supporters these days, little over two years later. "I don't think we had the right structure," Rice said. "I'll very, very blunt. We tried in Iraq to give it to a single department, the Department of Defense."

Bush administration officials now seem to be conducting a long overdue lessons-learned session, albeit on national television. This seems extra surprising because Bush, when asked in a 2004 debate for three mistakes he had made as president, could not come up with one. Now, suddenly, the man who won reelection on his resoluteness seems to be more thoughtful than we ever could have imagined. While he seems to have opened his mind to hindsight, he still seems unable to reconcile contingency plans.

When asked whether he would have gone to war if the intelligence had said Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, which, by the way, it did say before coming under heavy pressure from the administration to make a link, Bush said, "That's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do."

Things certainly can't be outdone, but it would not have hurt matters had the administration taken a few moments, back in, say, late 2002, or early 2003, to consider some alternate situations. What if Iraq, as many were saying, did not have weapons of mass destruction? Should we give the weapons inspectors more time? Was Iraq really an imminent threat? Was there any link between Iraq and the attacks on 9/11? What if we invaded and we were not greeted as liberators? Etc. It should be job of those in leadership positions, not to plan for the best case scenario, but to consider the worst case.

But, of course, to this administration, even before 9/11, there was one singular foreign policy goal, to deal with Saddam Hussein. He was unfinished business, a mess left over from Bush's father. As many insiders have pointed out, 9/11 was simply the leverage needed to enact the overthrow of the Iraqi government. That is the great tragedy, the irreparable regret, that this administration boldly moved to solve a problem that was no real problem at all, and left the main problems of domestic issues and international terrorism, to go unheeded.

In all this, those rebuked by the 43rd administration, including Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, General Shinseki, and even former President George H.W. Bush, have been exonorated while those who so carelessly orchistrated executive poilicy over the last eight years, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld, to name just a few, now speak of regrets to a public that has long since thrown its attention to President elect Barack Obama.

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