Bush sits down with Cindy Sheehan

CS: Mr. President, I’ve wanted to speak with you for months now and I’m not sure you ever knew why. I pursued you for answers. I want to know why we went to war in Iraq. I want to know why my son died. You sent him to his death and I think you owe me an explanation. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me why we went to war.  My son’s life blood seeped away in the dirt of a foreign country and you should have to explain why.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

GWB: Ms Sheehan, I’ve dreaded this conversation for a while now.  Firstly, let me say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your tragic, devastating loss. I feel powerless even trying to put into words what you must have gone through. Your suffering and the suffering of thousands of other parents is very real to me. I think about your family and families like yours every day. That burden never, ever leaves me and I know it never will. I’m sorry.

I’m also sorry I ducked you for so long.  I did it for many reasons but all of them were political.  I owe you more than that.  I owe your son’s memory and his sacrifice more than that.  For that, I’m sorry.

Now, to your question.

We went to Iraq mostly for the reasons I gave publicly and some that I didn’t give … couldn’t give … in public. I’m the president of the most powerful nation on Earth. Many say that makes me the most powerful individual on Earth. That might be true, but I’m still just a man. There are things I don’t know, things I can’t know. I surround myself with advisers and experts to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I have to rely on these people to give me information about the many subjects I deal with every day.

When it came to Iraq, the advice I got was terrible. Absolutely terrible. First, a caveat; this isn’t an excuse. I’m not trying to duck my responsibility here. I listened to the experts, but I made the decisions. In many cases I was involved in appointing the advisers, so I won’t be pointing fingers without realizing that ultimately all fingers point back to me. I understand that.

As I said, this is not about excuses, it’s about explaining.

After 9/11, America was hurting. We wanted to strike out and make sure that the people who conducted the attacks on us were made to suffer. We wanted to make sure that their capacity to strike at us was removed. We were pretty successful at that in Afghanistan.  While Afghanistan was a success story, Iraq was far from it.

Iraq wasn’t really about terrorism.  It was about two main things.  It was, first and foremost, about the politics of the region and trying to create a foothold for democracy.  Secondly, it was about stabilizing one of the major oil producing nations in the region and installing a government that shared our sympathies.

Yes, in hindsight these are terrible reasons.  I understand that.  At the time, based on advice I was given, I mistakenly believed that we’d be in and out quickly.  I believed we’d be greeted as liberators for removing a despicable tyrant from power.  It certainly didn’t turn out that way.

I saw an estimate the other day that said 650,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed.  I can tell you this face to face (but I’ll deny it on the record) , I believe that number.  We made sure that earlier reports of civilian casualties were much, much lower than that to train the public perception.  Mission accomplished.  The number 650,000 sounds outrageous now.  It isn’t outrageous and it might actually be low.

The first few weeks in Iraq could be reasonably described as a resounding success.  However, that was the last point at which I can describe anything we did as successful.   It devolved from there into a situation where it wasn’t an invading force taking control of terrority.  It was an occupying force involved in skirmishes with local insurgents.  The skirmishes have steadily increased in frequency and damage as time has gone on.  We’ve also given up almost everything we gained in Afghanistan.

You asked me for the truth.  The truth is that your son’s life was lost in a war we shouldn’t have been fighting.  His life was given for goals that, in hindsight, don’t make sense.  Nothing I can say or do will give your boy back to you.  I understand that.  All I can do is tell you that his sacrifice won’t be in vain.  It’s a reminder that America has to fight for the right reasons.  We have to fight as a last resort.  His death is a reminder that the President of the United States of America is, above all else, a public servant.  He’s supposed to protect this country from harm, not increase the risks.  He’s supposed to defend the great freedoms that America stands for, not whittle them away.

I’m sorry for the loss I’ve caused you.  I can tell you our foreign policy will change because of the sacrifices of the brave men and women I killed in this war.

The highest sacrifice a person can make for their country is to die in its defence.  That carries an obligation at the highest levels to make sure that sacrifice is only made when absolutely necessary.  Your son died as a result of poor policy, planning, diplomacy and leadership.  I’m the leader and therefore that’s my fault.

I’m sorry.

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