WASHINGTON, DC—Departing from his usual hopeful rhetoric during a question-and-answer session with reporters in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush suggested Tuesday that the war in Iraq has not been successful because the nation's armed forces are "just not very good."
"When the decision was made to liberate Iraq, I was going on what my advisers were telling me and what everyone has said for nearly a century—that the U.S. military is the best in the world," Bush said. "But if that were the case, and we did have the most powerful army, navy, marines, and air force on the globe, we would be winning, right?"
The president admitted that he'd been toying with the idea that a thorough lack of quality in personnel, from the top U.S. commander to the lowest-ranked private, is the only way to account for the colossal failure in Iraq, given that everything on the administrative side of the war has been carried out with the utmost care and precision.
"I know the folks on our end didn't drop the ball," Bush said. "The civilian oversight of this war and the plan of attack has been brilliant. There's no doubt about that in my mind. Hate to say it, but maybe our men and women in uniform just aren't what they're cracked up to be."
Bush conjectured that U.S. servicemen and women thrust into the horrifying chaos and violence of Iraq's Sunni Triangle may simply lack the proper perspective and cool detachment needed to implement an effective strategy against the insurgency. The commander in chief also wondered aloud why, for all their vaunted competence, American forces become disillusioned while fighting "for such a just and noble cause."
"I know I should support the troops, especially in a time of war, but if they can't handle the pressure, maybe they don't deserve my support," Bush said. "They're making me look bad."
"On the occasions I've met our troops, most of them didn't seem like they had much going for them," Bush added. "I don't think very many went to college or anything."
Bush said that in the past year he has had much occasion to think about the U.S. military's role in history, which, he recently was forced to conclude, is "overrated." He traced the roots of the misperception back to the nation's victory in World War II.
"We haven't really flat-out won a war since then, and you have to admit even that one was pretty close," the president said.
Continued Bush: "We pretty much have a 3-4 record in terms of important wars, and that's being generous, because I'm counting the Civil War as a victory. We got absolutely killed in Vietnam, which was another war where the leadership at home did a fine job, only to be let down by the troops. Not quite sure what happened in Korea. And I thought we won the first Gulf War, but apparently we didn't, because we're still there."
Shortly after the press conference, the White House announced that an advisory panel comprised of former officials from both Bush administrations and of private military contractors would be formed to devise effective solutions to problem areas in the nation's defense, namely the quality of the soldiers. Some of the likely recommendations include toughening recruitment standards so that not just anyone can enlist, and offering swift advancement opportunities for troops who show less dependence on the support current forces seem to constantly require from the American people. The panel is also expected to recommend that the nation enter into additional costly overseas conflicts as a way for the military to hone its combat skills.
Yet even the most optimistic administration estimates acknowledge that these transformations are years, if not decades away from being implemented. Meanwhile, Bush still appears determined to maintain the American military presence in Iraq, telling reporters that the only way to improve the armed forces isn't to quit, but to "keep plugging away and hope they'll get better at this war business before they all get killed."