The hidden calculation in Bush’s speech

Last night, President Bush ably laid out the dire consequences that failure in Iraq would bring: a safe haven for terrorists, an emboldened Iran, and regional destabilization, among others. As he succinctly put it: “failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.” Fair enough. But it’s hard to square that conclusion with ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
604902_bush_live5.jpg
604902_bush_live5.jpg

Last night, President Bush ably laid out the dire consequences that failure in Iraq would bring: a safe haven for terrorists, an emboldened Iran, and regional destabilization, among others. As he succinctly put it: "failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States." Fair enough.

But it's hard to square that conclusion with his clear implication that this troop surge may be Iraq's last chance at American help. "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises," the president said, "it will lose the support of the American people — and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people." If the consequences of failure will be as catastrophic as the president apparently believes, shouldn't we bear any burden and pay any price to prevent them?

Embedded in the president's speech, then, was an implicit cost-benefit calculation: Stability in Iraq may be worth X more months, Y more lives, and Z more dollars, but not more than that. It's a calculation that dare not speak its name, and maybe it shouldn't be spoken in a speech like the one that the president gave last night. But that's where the national conversation is headed.

Last night, President Bush ably laid out the dire consequences that failure in Iraq would bring: a safe haven for terrorists, an emboldened Iran, and regional destabilization, among others. As he succinctly put it: “failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.” Fair enough.

But it’s hard to square that conclusion with his clear implication that this troop surge may be Iraq’s last chance at American help. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises,” the president said, “it will lose the support of the American people — and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.” If the consequences of failure will be as catastrophic as the president apparently believes, shouldn’t we bear any burden and pay any price to prevent them?

Embedded in the president’s speech, then, was an implicit cost-benefit calculation: Stability in Iraq may be worth X more months, Y more lives, and Z more dollars, but not more than that. It’s a calculation that dare not speak its name, and maybe it shouldn’t be spoken in a speech like the one that the president gave last night. But that’s where the national conversation is headed.

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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