PRESIDENT BUSH'S address to the nation on Iraq was remarkable - not for what he said, but for what he did not say. It was equally remarkable not for the questions he answered, but for those he left unanswered. The American people learned little that they didn't know: that the United States is mired in an increasingly dangerous, expensive occupation at the center of a campaign against terrorism that was launched on specious grounds.
Let's start with the money. Mr. Bush put a new figure to the cost of policing and stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan - $87 billion - for the coming fiscal year. That's more than the administration has let on in recent weeks. But how it will pay for those costs the president did not say. Mr. Bush's tax cut program would be a good place to start. With the Iraq expenses mounting and the deficit expanding, the president should face the facts: His proposed tax cuts can't hold with a multibillion-dollar "war on terror." If he insists on maintaining them, then he should detail the programs and services that will suffer.
Now, for the war on terror. Mr. Bush characterized present-day Iraq as "the central front." That may suit the president's objectives in justifying the U.S. presence there, in discussing the sacrifices that lie ahead and explaining the need to see the mission through. But let's not forget that it was the administration's dead-wrong assessment of the behavior of Saddam Hussein loyalists after the regime fell and its dismal postwar planning that allowed terrorists from near and far to mobilize in Iraq.
On the question of United Nations support, Mr. Bush said he is "committed to expanding international cooperation" in rescuing the Iraqi people from their brutal past. That was an artful way of conceding that America can't do it alone. But again, Mr. Bush did not say what concessions he would make to persuade key allies such as France and Germany to contribute manpower and money to the cause. Neither is willing to participate in a multinational force led solely by Americans.
Make no mistake about it, much is riding on what Mr. Bush didn't say, on the questions he didn't answer:
The safety of American soldiers. More servicemen and women have died since Mr. Bush declared major combat over than died during the conflict. If the United States can't count on 10,000 to 15,000 non-American troops in the coming months, it will have to tap into its already depleted force.
The fiscal health of the nation. Mr. Bush's $87 billion request would push the U.S. deficit for next year to more than half a trillion dollars - a record - and the Bush tax cuts would worsen the situation in the future.
The fate of the Iraqi people. The terrorist attacks, lack of basic services and overall instability in the country are outpacing the accomplishments of the U.S.-led civil administration. Mr. Bush should forgo politically palatable enticements to U.N. members and give them a stake in a safe, secure, productive Iraq.