One of the things about this Iraq debate and the administration's use and misuse of intelligence to take the country to war is the issue of truth and trustworthiness. The Bush administration has betrayed the trust of the American people - not in a direct and overtly malicious way, but through the on-going refusal to admit glaringly obvious mistakes. When no WMD turned up in Iraq the administration bulldozed ahead without admitting that their pre-war intelligence was wrong, and in some cases intentionally so. While Andrew Sullivan is right here that the administration didn't go out of its way to cultivate faulty intelligence to fit its desired policy (overthrowing Saddam) and therefore lie to the American people, they weren't exactly careful about asking the necessary questions about the validity of the intelligence they were getting from Iraqi exiles and others who were all too eager to use American force for their own Iraqi political ends. This should be acknowledged. It hasn't, and it has led to a decline in the public's acceptance of anything this president has to say. Here is Andrew Sullivan:
Oddly enough, I think Bush would have been more easily forgiven by the public if he'd been less defensive about it at the moment the WMD argument collapsed after the invasion. But he refused to acknowledge the obvious, dismissed the embarrassment, tried to change the subject and then just went silent. Once again, he mistook brittleness for strength. These many small decisions not to trust the American people with the full, embarrassing truths about the war has, in the end, undermined trust in the president and therefore support for the war. For that lack of candor, the president is paying dearly. So is the war in Iraq.
In a political society, especially a democratic society, leaders need to be honest and truthful with the people. It is only fair. The American public likes honest leadership; people who tell it like it is. Bush used to have this image but his stubborn refusal to admit glaring mistakes has cost him this mantle. John McCain has always had this reputation and his popularity reflects this. McCain could do well in 2008 simply because he has this reputation.
The public now craves an open reckoning of this administration's plans for Iraq. What is the plan? Will we build up our forces so we can have the manpower to actually shut down the leaks in the Iraqi-Syrian border? If we lack the troops to get this done, what is the alternative? If we can't change the status quo (which seems to be two American soldiers killed each day with no positive trend in sight) what are we left with? We can call it a long battle that requires patience, but what if it's just a long battle that is stuck in a routine of 50 dead American soldiers per month? Iraq can have all the elections and referendum they want, but if the violence does not subside, I don't see reason to celebrate.
We need honesty from our leadership about our progress in Iraq. Admit mistakes and move to correct them. That is the best way to succeed.