Bush's Zero-Risk Policy

The key point in President Bush's Monday night speech was that the United States should not accept any level of risk in letting Iraq create or deliver weapons of mass destruction.

"I'm not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein," the president told a "heartland" audience in Cincinnati.

Ensuring that the US is totally free of any terrorist risks sets a high goal, requiring all sorts of sacrifices that many Americans aren't yet ready to accept.

Wary of war, some critics first insist on an imminent threat from Iraq or from an Iraqi weapon handed over to a terrorist. They cite the United Nations Charter, which allows a war of self-defense only in the case of armed attack.

Others say the risk is not yet high enough to end the diplomatic path of asking Mr. Hussein to allow full and unfettered inspections.

Still others accept a high risk from Iraq but feel uneasy in justifying a war unless there's more global consensus beyond a few allies such as Britain and one or two Arab nations.

Bush's retort to his critics is to remind them how the US, in its long-time passive security strategy, failed to anticipate the Al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11 – despite previous attacks and plenty of tips to intelligence agencies.

The lesson of Sept. 11, Bush says, is that "we are resolved today to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America."

Bush implies that a debate over the evidence about Hussein's capability and intent only blinds Americans to the need to accept a difficult strategy of zero-risk security in an age where terrorists can use destructive weapons.

Like an insurance salesman, Bush must both define a new kind of risk in Iraq and quantify it, but then lay out ways to avoid it altogether or simply deal with it piecemeal.

He's up against Americans' historic feeling that the oceans protect them. Many of them believe their particular neighborhood isn't a terrorist target zone, so why support a war against Iraq? But Bush wants all Americans to be concerned about losing any one American to an Iraqi-inspired attack.

He's calling for both selflessness in saving any one American's life, and sacrifice (including war) to reduce the terrorist risk to zero. How Americans respond will determine whether they will support a war on Iraq.

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