Too little, too late. President Bush is going to the nation to bolster his plummeting credibility because the war in Iraq is going badly. He's even admitting the original war plans weren't so great and that it won't be on his watch that troops can be withdrawn. Out of desperation, he's trying candor or a limited version of it. It's not enough.
There is one thing Bush has thus far refused to do, and it's crucial: Fire the people who made the key decisions about whether and how to fight this war. I'm talking about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Along with Vice President Dick Cheney, they brought on this foreign policy disaster. Cheney ought to get the boot, too, but he was elected with Bush.
I thought I had a pretty good appreciation of how poorly these people had prepared for the war and its consequences. But recently I've been reading excerpts from a new book, "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," by Michael Gordon, the New York Times military correspondent, and Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine lieutenant general and former Times military correspondent.
The lack of preparation for the postwar period was even more appalling than I had believed. And those early failures haunt us every day. The book reveals that military commanders on the ground warned the Pentagon early on that an insurgency was quickly developing, and different tactics and many more troops would be needed.
They were ignored by the general in charge, Tommy Franks, who had sold his soul to Rumsfeld. And Rumsfeld's response to cries from the field and criticism was to bully the generals, ignore their advice and threaten reprisals to those who continued to speak out.
Yes, Rumsfeld is tough, intelligent and dedicated. But how Bush could keep him on the job after things have gone so wrong in Iraq is beyond understanding. At the very least, he should have been asked to retire after the first term.
Rice, very popular now in opinion polls and a close confidante of the president, was national security adviser during the first term. It was her job to coordinate information about the war and make sure the president had all the facts. If some officials were skewing intelligence to support their position for an invasion, it was her job to make sure the information reaching the White House was as accurate and objective as possible.
We also now know that the State Department had serious misgivings about the postwar planning and had developed a set of plans itself, including the need to prevent looting in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. That information was wholly ignored by Rumsfeld, and it was Rice's job to make sure that did not happen.
Some officials I know who have watched and worked for the National Security Council over many years believe Rice was the weakest, most ineffective adviser in the council's history.
Hadley, self-effacing, quiet-spoken and highly regarded in the national security community, was Rice's deputy. What she didn't do, he should have. He didn't. And now he is the head person himself.
When asked what happened to all that political capital he was ready to spend after his re-election, Bush, almost wistfully, noted that it was all going to Iraq. Hasn't he ever asked why and who is responsible? He has got almost three years left in his term. We can't fire him, and, indeed, he was re-elected. But he's not only running out of capital, he's losing all credibility. That's not good for any of us. If he wants a second wind for the second term, he must fire the first-term national security team. They're proven failures.