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Secretary of State: “We have made tactical errors, thousands of them”

In a recent visit to Britain, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said what President Bush has steadfastly refused to remember about the Iraq War:

“U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted on Friday the United States had probably made thousands of errors in Iraq but defended the overall strategy of removing Saddam Hussein… “Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them,” she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. “I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam had been a threat to the international community long enough,” she added.”

As you may recall, President Bush gave a news conference on April 13, 2006. When asked, “…You’ve looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?”

The President of the United States replied:

“I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could’ve done it better this way or that way. You know, I just — I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet. I would’ve gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would’ve called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein…”

Concluding with:

“I hope — I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”

Let’s see: The news conference was two years ago. The Secretary of State said there have been thousands of mistakes. Let’s assume it was only 2,000 mistakes. Since 2003, that’s about 667 mistakes a year. That means the President had about 667 mistakes from which to choose, and couldn’t remember one of them. To be fair, it’s possible that the Bush Administration was not told of the 667 mistakes at that point, and only learned about these thousands of mistakes now.

That’s a lot of red ink on the Iraq War test.

7 comments to Secretary of State: “We have made tactical errors, thousands of them”

  • Or, as has been stated dozens of times in the past, it could be that sitting Presidents don’t admit to mistakes very often, if at all. That’s why they have people like Secretaries of State: to say the things Presidents don’t say. Please point to three mistakes previous Presidents admitted to when prosecuting a war effort, and I’ll be glad to read them. Otherwise, we continue to play the “Gotcha” game. I understand that many people view the War on Terror as a long string of potential “gotcha” moments, which is fine as long as you don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting: drafting and executing a plan for victory.

    In the end, the “thousands of mistakes” comment could mean anything: from expressing regret for each soldier killed (if each lost soldier counts as a mistake, then one could call WWII a horrific string of blunders) to wishing that coalition forces had done a lot more bombing in the first B of the progression of warfare (Bombs, then Bullets, then Bayonets). What is clear is that Rice was speaking from the luxury of hindsight, where most criticism can be safely levied.

    This is not to say that the Administration didn’t make errors in the prosecution of this war. We can ignore Von Clausewitz’s axiom of “No battle plan long survives contact with the enemy,” we can hide completely behind it and put our hands in our pockets, or we can accept it as a truism and try to work past it. I’d like to think that we’re working with the third option here, but a case can be made that option number two is the current paradigm.

    Or, we can just play the gotcha game. It’s fun, anyone can do it, and all it takes is a hostile press slavering for an opportunity to stick it to a sitting President. Beats the alternative: coming up with a better plan.

  • Joshua

    I feel that the denegration of criticism is a dangerous position to hold. Without criticism, where would we be? Continually forgiving the mistakes of our government?

    In my opinion, it is clearly not worthwhile to condone thousands of mistakes for the sole reason that I am not an expert in war and governance. I am as informed as I can be. I read and listen to experts who are not part of the government, and they cast their criticisms, too. Citizens have the right to take all this information and to criticize and judge whether their government is making too many, or too large mistakes, even though they are not experts. Without citizens making such judgements for themselves, our country would be forced to only accept experts that the government considers as legitimate. To me, this is the short-road to disaster.

    News from the last few years clearly points to American and British governments who were determined to invade Iraq, even though they had poor evidence to do so. It clearly points to an Administration that is single minded in its devotion to the opinions it wants to hear. It also clearly points to an administration that was wrong in key facets of the war, with the current situation as tangible evidence of those mistakes.

    The better war plan, in my opinion, would be to get a new administration in the executive branch that isn’t as rife with incompetents. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the new administration would be Republican or Democrat. All that matters is that the Bush administration is currently presiding over one failure after another and that we need to change the management of the war.

    As a citizen and a tax payer, I am entitled to read the news, be as informed as possible, and cast criticism of my government. I refuse to sit still and watch the government’s so-called experts screw-up.

  • As Ronald Reagan said, “Here you go again.” Nobody’s saying you can’t levy criticism against the goverment. Nobody’s saying you have to be an expert on an issue to criticize it.

    However, non-constructive criticism (that is, criticism without offering any kind of solution, or criticism in bad faith, such as blaming the administration for believing intelligence that only one person in the entire world knew to be incorrect) is bitching, and every time I see it, I’m going to call it that.

    I’m so sick of going over the argument about “poor pre-war evidence” that I’m no longer going to address it, because anyone making the argument is so obviously doing it in bad faith from the position of hindsight that the only conclusion I can come to is that it’s intended to be a gotcha. It’s not a serious argument, and doesn’t deserve serious consideration.

    I know that it would make you feel better to live in an America governed by a committee full of people who don’t agree with each other, and do so in the most public way possible (instead of, say, an administration that comes to its conclusions through consensus, weighing its decisions among experts in private). It’d sure be nice to see that, as it hasn’t happened since Lincoln. I’d have liked to have seen that in the Clinton years, and the Carter years, and the Eisenhower years, etc.

    The standard for competency, without proffering a single goal or a single idea past the endless expression of dissatisfaction, is pretty nebulous. For my part, I cannot wait for a President I didn’t vote for to get elected, so I can engage in the bitch-fest that will be sure to follow: filled with volume, sprinkled liberally with hindsight, and goal-free except for a need for “change.”

  • Joshua

    I did offer a solution: change the administration. This is a very tangible goal that was proffered but not met. As a voter, what other solutions do you want me to proffer? I try to vote so as to put the best women and men in charge. I’ve written to my congresswoman about problems I see in her governance solutions. I try to inform the public via this blog about what I consider to be the best way of thinking about current domestic and foreign policy. In discussions with fellow citizens, I try to engage them in calm and reasoned discussion of the issues. I’ve joined in various types of social protest. Even if I wrote White Papers full of solutions to our nation’s problems, there is very little chance that anyone in power would read them.

    I consider myself as sitting on the board of directors for America. When I see the chair is making too many mistakes, I suggest getting rid of the chair and voting in someone who is more in line with the principles for governance that I feel is right. I just don’t understand what more can be asked of the average American citizen and the voting public.

    What I also find problematic in the argument previously proffered is the assumption that criticism of the Bush Administration is part and parcel with “bad faith.” I agree that blind loyalty to any ideology is bad. I agree that arguments made on the basis of blind loyalty, without attempting to look at the facts of the case without political bias is bad. What I find disturbing is that when someone does argue that the President screwed-up, that it’s called hindsight instead of criticism, and is denegrated as an inferior way of caring about what goes on in America. I simply don’t agree with the position that criticism of this administration’s mistakes, in and of itself, is an inferior method of political discourse.

    On a related note, it is very difficult to determine bad faith from an argument, as it’s hard to say whether that person is blindly following an ideology and is taking any and all excuses to scream bloody murder for the sake of screaming bloody murder. This cannot be assumed. It can only be verified through analyzing their motivations, a notoriously hard thing to do.

  • Going over the same ground again, we wind up with the assertion that criticism is fine, but we can’t criticize the criticism. Sorry, but I don’t find that argument convincing. The endless bitch-fest isn’t going to make 2008 come any faster: this administration will be in charge until the end of Bush’s 2nd term.

    I don’t know if it’s my inability to make myself understood in print, or if you are deliberately mischaracterizing my argument when you state, “What I also find problematic in the argument previously proffered is the assumption that criticism of the Bush Administration is part and parcel with ‘bad faith.’” In no way did I say that; you are setting up a straw-man and knocking him down without addressing what was really said. Certain criticisms have been and continue to be levied in bad faith. I did not say that all, or even most of them were. A good example of a bad faith criticism is where a particular criticism is expressed more than once despite that such criticism is proven groundless. Such as the “Bush doesn’t admit to mistakes” argument, which I’ve addressed several times in the past and won’t again.

    Ultimately, there will always be issues where the parties discussing them will have to agree to disagree. At some points, people talk past each other, while at others, you may find yourself at a total impasse (for example, when I stated that the scholar who asserted that President Lincoln was gay wasn’t fit to dispassionately address sexual issues because he liked to masturbate dogs, you claimed that that was immaterial http://www.thewaterglass.net/archives/000957.html). All that’s fine. But if criticism is allowed, even necessary, then so is critiquing the criticism.

  • Joshua

    Critiquing the criticism is fine. No problems about that.

    As for not addressing what you really said, well, I’ve said my peace on that. We’ll let future generations of The Waterglass readers to decide if my comments were off-base.

    If you send me your UPS #, I’ll forward you more critiques.

  • My UPS # is: Thbbbbbbbbbtttt.