Bush's mistakes

Posted: Jul 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Yes, President Bush and his team have made mistakes.

There were the 16 words about Saddam Hussein's seeking "uranium from Africa," which President Bush admits should not have been in his 2003 State of the Union address. The Bush administration was cocky in its assumption that U.S. troops, unlike U.N. weapons inspectors, would virtually trip over Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

The WMD remain maddeningly MIA. And it was probably a mistake for Bush to sort of admit to the 16-word mistake -- the CIA let him do it -- because it led to hysterical charges that Bush deliberately misled the American public to promote a war that Congress had authorized in 2002.

With the 2004 presidential election looming, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, who voted to authorize war in Iraq, charged that Bush "hoodwinked the American people," The Associated Press reported.

In time, these overplayed stories will become vague memories of Bush-haters desperately trying to paint the lack of an instant victory in Iraq as the bad fruit of Bushie screw-ups. But right now, they constitute the endless chatter of cable news.

You'd think America was losing in Iraq.

Au contraire: U.S. troops engaged in the excruciating task of rebuilding Iraq have been so victorious that they now are dealing with what Gen. Tommy Franks called "catastrophic success." Credit the law of unintended consequences -- Baghdad collapsed so quickly that mid-level Baathists were able to melt into the population. They lived to terrorize another day.

More important, however, is the fact that more U.S. soldiers lived, as well. The U.S. victory is not to be taken lightly, even if Gen. John Abizaid admitted last week that the Iraqi situation represents "a classical guerrilla-type campaign."

Again, the mouthpieces over-reacted. As the death toll of American troops killed in action since May 1 reached 38, the Bush-Bashers had begun comparing Iraq to Vietnam and calling for specifics on the administration's "exit strategy." Note United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for a "clear timetable" for a staged U.S. withdrawal of troops.

That's right, the very "international community" elites, who used to put down Bush for being a hick on nation-building, are the folks who are demanding, mere months since the fighting began, "When will it be over?"

Swell idea. Release a timetable that gives Baathist loyalists a schedule for stonewalling.

America's enemies already know that it took 18 dead soldiers to prompt President Clinton to withdraw U.S. troops from a humanitarian mission in Somalia in 1993. During the first Persian Gulf War (led by the first President Bush), our enemies became too familiar with America's willingness to not finish what we've started.

Yet somehow, some of America's friends do not understand the need for Bush to stick to his pledge to keep U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a "regime change" -- which happened -- followed by a stable, democratic government -- which hasn't happened and won't happen soon.

It will be "a while," L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq, told NBC's Tim Russert on Sunday. "I don't know how many years."

In Bremer, America has a diplomat who knows better than to create a set number at which eager critics can snipe if it's not met. Bremer, like Bush, knows how to focus on a long-term goal.

Bush spokesman Ken Lisaius noted, "The president has said that we're going to see this mission through so Iraq can be stable and Iraq can be secure and Iraq can be on a path to democracy.

"The president is not going to put a timetable on it because it's such an important mission. He's going to see it through."

Yes, the United States will make mistakes along the way. But the biggest mistake would be to let the snipers turn victory into defeat.