On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough argued that there is "not a dime's worth of difference between" what the "major party leaders are saying" about the Iraq war. According to Scarborough, "The Democrats will tell you the president screwed up. But heck, even the president is saying he screwed up. So again, no difference." However, an examination at Bush's purported admissions of error shows that he has not admitted to as much as Scarborough suggested he has, and that the president has qualified any acknowledgement of war-related problems with ambiguous language.
On the March 20 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough argued that if one listens "a little more closely to what the major party leaders are saying" about the Iraq war, "there's not a dime's worth of difference between either party." According to Scarborough, "The Democrats will tell you the president screwed up. But heck, even the president is saying he screwed up. So again, no difference." Scarborough went on to say that the Democrats are now obligated to admit to error in same fashion as Bush allegedly has.
"The biggest difference," Scarborough said, "seems to be the Democratic leaders are still refusing to admit that they were wrong -- wrong about voting for the war, if, in fact, it was wrong." However, an examination of Bush's purported admissions of error shows that he has not admitted to as much as Scarborough suggested, and the few "mistakes" Bush has acknowledged are certainly of a lesser caliber than the admissions Scarborough claimed the Democrats are obligated to give -- i.e. admitting they were wrong to vote for the war. Moreover, the president has tempered any acknowledgement of war-related problems with ambiguous language, and has admitted to tactical errors while consistently reaffirming his decision to launch the war and voicing his continued support for it. Bush has spoken vaguely about "adjusting tactics" and "learning from experiences" in Iraq, and pointed to the training of Iraqi troops as his one example of an "adjusted tactic."
Going back to Bush's April 13, 2004, press conference, the president had difficulty acknowledging that he had made any mistakes at all, saying instead, "I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan," and "I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein." From Bush's press conference:
REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. 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 you learned from it?
BUSH: I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. [Laughter.] John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have 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 an answer, but it hadn't yet.
I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we've sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.
One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don't want to be killed. There's a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they're worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they're not going to talk.
But it will all settle out, John. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually -- not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.
I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've 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.
In a nationally televised speech on December 18, 2005, Bush said that "we have learned from our experiences," in Iraq "and fixed what has not worked," but not before reaffirming that "it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power." The following day, when a reporter asked him again what he considered the "biggest mistake" of his presidency, Bush used the occasion to attack the motives of the reporter who previously asked him that question, and to reaffirm that he has made the right decisions on invading Iraq and establishing troop levels. Only then did he acknowledge: "I said the other day that a mistake was trying to train a civilian defense force and an Iraqi army at the same time, but not giving the civilian defense force enough training and tools necessary to be able to battle a group of thugs and killers." From Bush's December 19, 2005, press conference:
REPORTER: But, sir, you've shown a remarkable spirit of candor in the last couple of weeks in your conversation and speeches about Iraq. And I'm wondering if, in that spirit, I might ask you a question that you didn't seem to have an answer for the last time you were asked, and that is, what would you say is the biggest mistake you've made during your presidency, and what have you learned from it?
BUSH: Answering Dickerson's question. No, I -- the last time those questions were asked, I really felt like it was an attempt for me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And it wasn't a mistake to go into Iraq. It was the right decision to make.
I think that, John, there's going to be a lot of analysis done on the decisions on the ground in Iraq. For example, I'm fully aware that some have said it was a mistake not to put enough troops there immediately -- or more troops. I made my decision based upon the recommendations of Tommy Franks, and I still think it was the right decision to make. But history will judge.
I said the other day that a mistake was trying to train a civilian defense force and an Iraqi army at the same time, but not giving the civilian defense force enough training and tools necessary to be able to battle a group of thugs and killers. And so we adjusted.
And the point I'm trying to make to the American people in this, as you said, candid dialogue -- I hope I've been candid all along; but in the candid dialogue -- is to say, we're constantly changing our tactics to meet the changing tactics of an enemy. And that's important for our citizens to understand.
In a March 20 speech before the City Club of Cleveland in Ohio, Bush remarked upon the success of military and reconstruction efforts in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar, and acknowledged -- without getting into specifics -- that the "strategy that worked so well in Tal Afar did not emerge overnight -- it came only after much trial and error." Bush made sure to note, however, that "the strategy is working," and again reaffirmed: "The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a difficult decision; the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision." Following the speech, Bush was asked how, after the administration's pre-war claims about Iraq's weapons programs were shown to be false, "do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders and to be sure that the information they are getting now is correct." Bush replied:
BUSH: Like you, I asked that very same question, where did we go wrong on intelligence. The truth of the matter is the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't just my administration, it was the previous administration. It wasn't just the previous administration; you might remember, sir, there was a Security Council vote of 15 to nothing that said to Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. The basic premise was, you've got weapons. That's what we thought.
From the March 20 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: But listen a little more closely to what the major party leaders are saying. And you're going to see, there's not a dime's worth of difference between either party. President Bush supported this war. The Democrats' 2004 nominee, [Sen.] John Kerry [D-MA], supported this war. The Democrats' 2008 candidate, [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY], supported this war. Likewise, they all warned us, everyone warned us of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. All of them of them voted for the invasion. All of them supported for the Patriot Act. All of them oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and all refuse to name a date certain when American troops should come home. So what's the difference?
Well, the Democrats will tell you the president screwed up. But heck, even the president is saying he screwed up. So, again, no difference. The biggest difference seems to be the Democratic leaders are still refusing to admit that they were wrong -- wrong about voting for the war, if, in fact, it was wrong. Wrong about WMDs, wrong about giving this president a blank check to go into a war that they want their base to think they opposed.
Friends, they didn't oppose that war. And leaders like Hillary Clinton still don't oppose that war. And if you don't believe me, then try to find a quote by the New York senator calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. You won't find it, because it doesn't exist.