One more chance to get it wrong

President Bush, who rarely admits mistakes, conceded in prime time that errors and misjudgments had been made in Iraq, but the plan he announced is hardly a bold departure from the existing strategy.

In most respects, it is more of the same — more troops, more advisers, more reconstruction aid. Whatever the merits of competing strategies offered by the Iraq Study Group, the hawkish Sen. John McCain, former U.S. commanders in Iraq and the Iraqis themselves, Bush chose to ignore them.

His plan calls for committing 21,500 more troops, some of them already en route. On top of the 130,000 already there, that is still fewer than the 165,000 deployed two years ago for the Iraqi elections.

The plan has the single goal of securing Baghdad and, for it to work, relies heavily on the performance of the Iraqi military and police and the wholehearted cooperation of the Shiite-leaning government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose aides have already expressed skepticism about the buildup. The reliance on the Iraqis means that the ultimate success of the plan is out of Bush’s hands.

And the strategy itself has an inherent contradiction. The president says it is vital to the war on terror that we stay and win — yet at the same time he says our patience is not unlimited.

Still, Bush said, U.S. commanders on the ground have told him “this plan can work.” For the president, it has to.

The Bush White House has been wrong at almost every step of the war — wrong about WMD; Saddam Hussein’s links to al Qaeda; being welcome as liberators; financing the reconstruction out of oil revenues; disbanding the army; dismissing most of the government; and foreseeing the deep-seated sectarian hostility.

Time is running out on the ambitious venture that will forever define his presidency. He has just two more years in office. The public has turned against the war and, increasingly, so too are his fellow Republicans. The Democrats have vowed to block funds for any kind of sustained buildup.

President Bush is running out of chances to get it right on the war. This one may very likely be his last.