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Is Failure an Option?

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 1:40 PM

President Bush yesterday described the current situation in Iraq as "a slow failure" and derided troop withdrawal as "expedited failure," while insisting that his new plan to send yet more troops into the fight will lead to success.

Bush is clearly hoping to win back some credibility with the American people by admitting that what he had previously called success he now recognizes as failure. But all this really proves is that he couldn't be trusted before.

Over much of the course of the war Bush has incrementally made concessions that things are not going well in Iraq. Yesterday's admission was just the latest. And while it suggests a dawning acceptance of some aspects of reality, it doesn't speak to the quality of his decisions, or to any learning.

Bush has never said: I made a wrong decision in this case, here's why, and here's what I learned from it, which is why you can have greater faith in me this time.

So why should he be trusted now? Bush is constantly being asked that very question these days, but he can't come up with a persuasive answer. He simply says that he believes we can succeed.

Yet what if success is no longer an option in Iraq -- then what are the three options really? Slow failure, expedited failure, and colossal failure? And which of those three is best?

Bush and Lehrer

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "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.'"

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush spoke with Mr. Lehrer... as part of a media tour aimed at rebuilding support for the war and, more specifically, the new war plan he announced last week. Officials have said that Mr. Bush was in part trying to build credibility after so many setbacks in Iraq by nodding to troubles there.

"'We have to swallow hard and remind people the president realizes how hard it is,' said a White House official involved in the strategy."


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