Time for Bush to admit errors and reach out to Democrats

December 02, 2005|By STEVE ANDREASEN

What President Bush, Congress and the American people must focus on now when it comes to Iraq is what the United States will do after the Dec. 15 Iraqi election. Assuming a decent level of minority Sunni Arab participation, the election might open a last, narrow window for achieving a relatively secure, stable and democratic Iraq.

Mr. Bush tried to start us down this road with his speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy detailing U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces that was accompanied by the release of a document, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Moreover, he pledged to follow up with a series of speeches discussing in depth the various pillars of our strategy in Iraq.

While Mr. Bush is correct in recognizing the need to provide more information to the public regarding U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq and win the war against radical Islam, he needs to do two things he has so far resisted in order for his strategy to work: He must make a dramatic step to restore his personal credibility with the American people, and he must reach out to Democrats with a bold proposal for real bipartisan cooperation.

What should Mr. Bush say? He must deal with the issue of past mistakes so that we can focus on the future. And he must ratchet down the rhetoric and offer a bold process for bringing Democrats and Republicans together. He should do this no later than Dec. 16, the day after the elections. Here's how it might sound:

"As the president, I am responsible for the conduct of our nation's foreign policy. I made the decision to go to war in Iraq based on my judgment of the threat to the American people posed by Saddam Hussein.

"We now know that the information I had regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war was wrong. Moreover, in presenting the case for war to the American people, members of my administration - including me - did not adequately explain the uncertainties surrounding the intelligence. That was wrong, and I apologize.

"I still believe the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power was right. There are those who disagree. History will be the ultimate judge. But before the historians have their say, we must come together to stabilize Iraq, bring our troops home and win the war against Islamic extremism. These are interests that transcend the debate over the war or party politics.

"We are at a crucial phase in our efforts to build an independent Iraq. A new Iraqi constitution has been adopted, and the elections will lead to a new Iraqi government. Once that new government is in place, the Iraqi people must move quickly to resolve their differences and build a new Iraq. America will do everything it can to ensure their success. But American troops will not stay in Iraq to be witness to a civil war.

"As a first step in building a new consensus in America for meeting the serious challenges that lie ahead, I am inviting the Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate to meet with me at Camp David. We will set aside any partisan politics and work on a common strategy for stabilizing Iraq so that our troops can come home.

"We must also develop a common strategy for defeating radical Islam, strengthening our defenses at home and redoubling our efforts to keep nuclear, biological and chemical weapons out of the hands of those who would use them against us.

"I am convinced this is an agenda that has broad support in Congress, in America and in the capitals of our allies abroad. Let us now work together to ensure the security of America and the success of freedom."

This would not be an easy speech for Mr. Bush to give. So far, he has avoided both admitting missteps and admitting the opposition party into his policy councils. But we have reached the point where the president simply has no choice. If he continues to "stay the course," his presidency will remain gripped by paralysis and our country embroiled in partisan warfare. And that is in no one's interest.

Steve Andreasen, director for defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council from 1993 to 2001, is a national security consultant and teaches at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. His e-mail is spandreasen@earthlink.net.

Columnist Trudy Rubin is on vacation.

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