Retired general regrets advice he gave about Iraq War

WASHINGTON – As the Bush administration works in its final days to cement its legacy, one of the leading architects of the Iraq war acknowledged yesterday that he would change some of the military advice he gave at the time, if he could.

Retired Gen. Peter Pace, who was President Bush’s top military adviser from 2005-07, served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the most volatile and deadly years of the war.

Speaking at the unveiling of his official portrait in the Pentagon, he said he’s had 15 months since he left the job to think about what went right and what went wrong.

“I certainly made some wrong estimates. And I certainly made some recommendations that, if I could take them back and change them, I would,” Pace told the small crowd, which included former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But, adding a caveat of 20-20 hindsight, he said, “I also know, given the exact same data, at the exact same time in history, that I would give the exact same advice.”

The painting of Pace was done by Maryland artist Peter E. Egeli, also a former Marine. It will hang in the Pentagon.

Both Pace and Rumsfeld were political casualties of the war, losing their jobs as the public became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in Iraq and the escalating troop deaths – now numbering more than 4,200.

Pace, who retired in Oct. 2007 after serving two years as chairman and four as vice chairman, has said that he overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to hold together after the invasion, and as a result underestimated the number of U.S. troops that would eventually be needed to fight the war.

Rumsfeld stepped down a day after the 2006 elections, as Democrats swept into control on a wave of anti-war sentiment.

Pace’s comments yesterday come a day after Bush vigorously defended his own decisions on the war but admitted that things did not always go as planned, including not finding weapons of mass destruction, and declaring mission accomplished a few months into a war that has now dragged on for six years.

“History will be written at the right time,” said Pace, a Vietnam veteran who became the first Marine to serve as chairman. While Pace finished his first two-year term as chairman, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reluctantly decided not to have him stay on for an expected second term. Officials feared that increasingly heated opposition to the war, particularly on Capitol Hill, would have led to a bitter and distracting nomination hearing.

On Tuesday Pace spoke wistfully of his love for the job and the service. Behind him, the painting showed him standing in his military uniform, complete with a chest full of medals.

“I miss it,” said Pace. “If I could find a way to serve this nation again, I would.”