President Says His Iraq Policy Was Failing

President Bush criticized the Iraqi government's handling of Saddam Hussein's execution.
President Bush criticized the Iraqi government's handling of Saddam Hussein's execution. (Pool Photo By Ron Sachs)
By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

President Bush said that his Iraq policy was headed to "a slow failure" until he changed course last week with the announcement that he was sending more than 21,000 additional U.S. troops to bolster flagging security in Baghdad.

The comment, perhaps the president's frankest admission that the previous strategy was not working, came during an interview yesterday with Jim Lehrer of PBS's "NewsHour," in which Bush detailed some of his decision-making regarding Iraq.

"I had a choice to make," Bush said. "Do what we're doing -- and one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces -- help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad."

Bush added: "I chose the latter because I think it's going to more likely be successful."

The interview was part of an ongoing White House campaign to sell the new Iraq policy in the face of intense skepticism from Congress and the American public. Bush acknowledged this view while sharpening his criticism of the Iraqi government over its handling of the execution of Saddam Hussein and security in Baghdad.

Bush said the Hussein execution was "fumbled" and "reinforced doubts in people's minds that the Maliki government and the unity government of Iraq is a serious government."

"It looked like it was kind of a revenge killing," Bush added. "And it sent a mixed signal to the American people and the people around the world. And it just goes to show that this is a government that has still got some maturation to do."

Bush also said the U.S. and Iraq governments share blame for the failure to stop sectarian violence from escalating in the aftermath of February's bombing of one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites, the Askariya shrine in Samarra.

"We should have found troops and moved them," Bush said. "But part of it was that the Iraqis didn't move troops. And I take responsibility for us not moving our own troops into Baghdad."

Asked why the troops were not provided, Bush replied: "I think the commanders there felt like it was important to make sure the Iraqis did first, or that the Iraqis made a focused, concerted effort. And they just didn't. There were supposedly six brigades committed and they sent two." He said that will change with the latest Baghdad security plan.

Bush was also asked by Lehrer why he was not willing to ask more Americans to sacrifice something, given the importance he has attached to the struggle in Iraq.

"I think a lot of people are in this fight," Bush replied. "I mean, they -- they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is -- it is somewhat down because of this war."

Bush said talk of sacrifice in Washington means raising taxes.

"If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy," the president said.

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