GEORGE W. Bush has admitted the US failed to plan for a speedy victory in Iraq, describing the sudden collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime as a "catastrophic success".
In a rare concession from the President, who dislikes admitting error, Mr Bush told Time magazine that his planners had not considered the prospect of a quick collapse.
"Had we to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success – being so successful, so fast, that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in, escaped and lived to fight another day," he said.
Mr Bush sought to blame the prolonged war -- in which 969 US troops have been killed so far -- on an over-quick victory that meant the US ended up having to fight "a third more" of Hussein's Baathist supporters than military planners had expected.
Democrat vice-presidential candidate John Edwards seized on the comment, made as the President prepares for a high-profile week with the Republican Party's national convention in New York.
"President Bush now says his Iraq policy is a catastrophic success," Senator Edwards said Monday. "He's half right. It was catastrophic to rush to war without a plan to win the peace."
Mr Bush said he believed the war on terrorism would be a long-lasting ideological struggle, but he declined to call it a fourth world war, saying: "I'm not the historian -- I'm the guy making history."
The President will outline his second-term agenda and remind Americans of the threat of terrorism in his pitch to the convention. The slogan for the event, on banners hung around the convention hall inside Madison Square Garden, is "Fulfilling America's promise: a safer world, a more hopeful America."
Mr Bush enters the week in the most hopeful shape he has been in for some time, thanks largely to a mix of strident attacks on John Kerry's war record by a group of White House-linked ex-Vietnam veterans, and some stumbles by the Democratic candidate.
The polls are still mostly showing a tight race, but any movement has been in Mr Bush's favor recently.
The Bush camp's key re-election message is that he is the best man to keep the US safe, and that Senator Kerry is too indecisive to be trusted.
That is why Mr Bush came to the Democratic stronghold of New York leading up to September: it is where the terrorist attacks occurred three years ago next week.
Underscoring that message, Republicans opted to kick off their week with Vice-President Dick Cheney and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani speaking at Ellis Island, against the backdrop of New York missing its World Trade Center towers.
Mr Cheney wasted little time working that fact into his speech, warning of the continuing threat to the US -- "and a sure reminder of that is the skyline of this great city, which was altered so violently on September 11, 2001".
Mr Bush, he said, echoing the twin themes of the week, was "strong and steadfast" and also "compassionate and concerned".
The main speakers in the three nights preceding Mr Bush's Thursday speech mainly aim to soften the hard edges of the President, whose critics say he has never lived up to his promise to be a "compassionate" conservative.
Apart from Mr Giuliani, who favors abortion rights, the speakers include Arnold Schwarzenegger of liberal California, Laura Bush, and former Vietnam veteran John McCain of Arizona, whom Senator Kerry reportedly considered as his running mate.
© Copyright 2004 The Australian