There is a good discussion going on over at Buzz Machine about the wisdom of admitting mistakes. Sadly, when it comes to public life, be it journalism or politics, admitting a mistake is just too costly. Dan Rather and CBS are scrambling to avoid that trap. The president is hoping to break free of it.
Recall how Bush’s remark that he had “miscalculated” the post-war situation in Iraq has come back to haunt him. The media replays it daily. The Dems harp on it in interviews, speeches, ads, any chance they get. It will be used as a weapon against Bush during the debates. (I predict that a journalist will bring it up in the form of a “question” long before Kerry gets a chance to mention it.)
This is not only unfair, it is harmful. Errors in war are the rule. Take a close look at any military action and you’ll find a million of them. Victory isn’t awarded to those with great plans, but rather to those who best adapt to changing circumstances. By creating an environment where every decision is under the microscope and even the hint of a mistake is punished, we’ve taken away perhaps the strongest weapon any commander has: the ability to adapt, the freedom to abandon a course of action as a more expedient one presents itself.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t hold people accountable for their decisions. It just means that we need to acknowledge that war is messy, and that there is little that resembles a plan that is useful. It means that we need to be fair, to be patient, and to have a little perspective.