Bush Admits Mistakes in Iraq, Defends Tactics

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006; 4:39 PM

President Bush today said mistakes were made in planning for the Iraq invasion, but he defended the troop level he ordered in the initial strike, saying he would have committed the same number if given a second chance.

Recalling his pre-war conversations with Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion and is now retired, Bush told a business group in Irvine, Calif.: "The level that he suggested was the troop level necessary to do the job, and I support it strongly."

Bush's comments come as some retired generals have called in recent days for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying he bungled the planning of the war and the execution of its aftermath.

Bush's appearance was billed as a forum on immigration reform, as Congress returns today from a two-week recess to debate sharply different proposals on how to cope with the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Bush said calls by some in Congress for massive deportations of illegal immigrants are unrealistic.

The president, taking questions from members of the Orange County Business Council, also defended his decision to mount the war, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis.

Asked if he would have invaded Iraq, knowing what he knows now, Bush said: "We're constantly adjusting on the ground to meet an enemy which changes. But on the big decisions of sending the troops in, I'd have done it again."

Bush said the United States erred in attempting large reconstruction projects soon after the invasion was completed.

"It didn't make any sense" undertaking these projects because "they became convenient targets for the enemy," he said. " . . . I'm getting down in minutiae. But there are some tactics that, when I look back, that would have done differently."

He also said the United States underestimated the nature of the threats U.S. and Iraqi forces would find inside the country.

"You know, every war plan is perfect until it meets the enemy -- and it's fine on paper until you actually start putting it into practice," he said. " . . . Decisions, you know, like preparing an Iraqi army for an external threat. Well, it turns out there may have been an external threat but it's nothing compared to the internal threat."

Bush briefly noted that he sat in a California church yesterday near a "mother and stepfather" who were "grieving" for their son who had been killed in Iraq.

He went on to say: "I also want to let you know that before you commit troops that you must do everything that you can to solve the problem diplomatically. And I can look you in the eye and tell you I feel I tried to solve the problem diplomatically to the max and would have committed troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing what I know today."

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