It Doesn’t Add Up

Last night President Bush went before the nation in a primetime televised address to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Though many viewers tuned-in thinking they would see Bush in his former (and short-lived) incarnation as the Healer-in-Chief, in this over-heated political season that was a foolish expectation. Bush put the case for the war in Iraq front and center and argued that his decision to topple the Saddam Hussein regime stemmed explicitly and directly from the horrific events of 9/11.

“I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” he said, midway through his speech. “The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat,” he said, and “posed a risk that the world could not afford to take.”

Even more forthrightly, Bush later said that, “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.” I think there are reasonable arguments that this is not so clearly the case. That in fact the Iraqi crisis exists in a rather independent – and bloody – orbit of its own, separate from the threat of the sort of the jihadist violence that visited us on 9/11. But for the sake of this post, lets cast those doubts aside.

If Bush truly believes what he says, if success in Iraq is the paramount concern of his government, why not send more troops?

Yes, I know what you are thinking: It is political suicide in this electoral climate. True. But Bush’s defenders always say that he is not concerned about the short-term, that he is operating with an eye to the long-term historical perspective. He takes heart in Harry Truman (who isn’t, these days?). If this is true, things don’t add up. Iraq suffers now from an impasse. We have enough forces, and a strategy, that ensures that we will not be defeated. But it also ensures that we will not win. In today’s Washington Post, Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry offer a compelling argument for raising the troop levels in Baghdad, to secure that ravaged city.

Political suicide? Perhaps. Strategic necessity? Definitely.

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