Global Independent Analytics

Obama, Libya and all the presidents' regrets

It is not often a president says they got something wrong but at the weekend Barack Obama did just that. A selection of famous U.S. Presidents’ mistakes and their admissions.

Thom Poole for BBC reports: Asked for his worst mistake while in office, Mr Obama named the failure to plan for the aftermath of Col Gaddafi's ousting as Libyan leader, which sparked years of instability that are only just showing signs of easing. Whether it be pride, a reluctance to show weakness or not wanting to hand opponents ammunition, such admissions do not come easily.

They tend to come out of political necessity, when a president's term is coming to an end or, safer still, when they are out of office altogether. Even this apparent display of humility from Mr. Obama, given as he considered his legacy, was qualified by his belief the intervention was "the right thing to do."

Bush and mass destruction weapon

Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush, admitted that he regretted invading Iraq in fruitless efforts to find weapons of mass destruction. However, he said that even if he had known that Iraq owned no WMD, he would have nevertheless invaded the country. And he added: "I will leave the presidency with my head held high."

Bill Clinton and ‘that woman.'

The former president assumed that even years after leaving the office he still feels responsibility for the Rwandan genocide which occurred during his first term. Besides that, he was blamed for the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic people in jail after implementing in 1994 the bill that aimed at reducing crime by toughening sentences. However, his most famous confession came in 1998, when he, still in office, he admitted, after months of denial, his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

George Bush Sr. and ‘no new taxes’ pledge

“Campaigning in 1988, he made the bold promise: "Read my lips: no new taxes."

Of course, it was not one he could keep. "I did it, and I regret it and I regret it," he said while seeking re-election in 1992.

But the damage had been done, and a pledge that helped him win a first term hindered him from winning a second,” continues Poole.

Ronald Reagan and off-the-record U.S. – Iran relations

He indeed expressed his regret regarding the Iran-Contra affair, but there was more. Although yet it is unclear how informed Reagan was of the dealings, but the fact remains: when speaking about the secret sale of US arms to Iran, which was under embargo, he claimed: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages”, which in fact, he or his administration did.

John F Kennedy and Bay of Pigs failure

Days after Cuba was pushed into the arms of the Soviet army, Kennedy, when asked about a “certain foreign policy situation” responded that either he nor his administration had anything more to say at the time was not to conceal responsibility, he said, because "I'm the responsible officer of the government".

Admitting one’s political failures might very well do a disservice: an admission is unlikely to change critics' minds and could damage supporters' confidence. In an 1876 report on his presidency, marred by political and financial scandals, Ulysses S Grant said "mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit it," according to Safire's Political Dictionary. Or in other words: "Mistakes have been made. But not necessarily by me."

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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