Boehner: Troop Deaths ‘Small Price’ for Iraq Success

House Republican leader John Boehner told Wolf Blitzer that the death of thousands of American soldiers is “a small price” to pay in Iraq:

BLITZER: How much longer will U.S. taxpayers have to shell out $2 billion a week or $3 billion a week as some now are suggesting the cost is going to endure? The loss in blood, the Americans who are killed every month, how much longer do you think this commitment, this military commitment is going to require?

BOEHNER: I think General Petraeus outlined it pretty clearly. We’re making success. We need to firm up those successes. We need to continue our effort here because, Wolf, long term, the investment that we’re making today will be a small price if we’re able to stop al Qaeda here, if we’re able to stabilize the Middle East, it’s not only going to be a small price for the near future, but think about the future for our kids and their kids.

Greg Sargent, who has both the transcript and a video, is apoplectic about Boehner’s callousness, especially coming from one who isn’t “sacrificing anything for the Iraq war.” He also resents Boehner’s use of the word “we” in that context.

Boehner’s phrasing was inartful. Politicians are expected to issue disclaimers about how, of course, even the loss of a single American life is a tragedy and how the nation owes an internal debt of gratitude to all the men and women of our armed services for their sacrifices.

Still, that sentiment should simply go without saying. That 3,773 Americans have died and another 27,848 have been wounded is a high price, especially when it appears we will fall far short of achieving our war aims, is obvious. No serious person, regardless of party affiliation or view on the wisdom of this war, disputes that.

The price of war, however, must be measured against the stakes. The United States, with a population well under half the current total, lost 291,557 dead and 670,846 wounded in World War II. In exchange, we defeated the forces of Fascism (and launched half a century of Cold War). Few argue it wasn’t worth the sacrifice.

Would 4,000 deaths be a relatively small price to pay to stop al Qaeda and stabilize the Middle East? My goodness, yes. We’d make that back preventing one 9-11 scale attack.

The real question is whether we’ll come anywhere close to achieving those goals. If we leave Iraq and the Middle East in chaos, strengthening the hand of the Iranian mullahs and the Islamists, then any price was too high.

UPDATE: Senator John Kerry takes the opposing view at HuffPo.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    “The real question is whether we’ll come anywhere close to achieving those goals.”

    Only for the deluded.

    “If we leave Iraq and the Middle East in chaos, strengthening the hand of the Iranian mullahs and the Islamists, then any price was too high.”

    We aren’t *leaving* places in chaos, we put them into chaos.

  2. Pug says:

    This is the kind of quote that, if spoken by a Democratic politician and taken out of context, would cause a talk radio, Fox News and right-wing blogosphere explosion. The speaker would be renounced as anti-troop and anti-American by the likes of Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and it would milked to produce every last bit of phony outrage.

    Sometimes perhaps we should just accept that people state things “inartfully”, but it really doesn’t work that way for the liberals. See John Kerry and the flubbed “stuck in Iraq” joke.

  3. Not the senator says:

    Time for the obligatory demand that the comments be denounced.

  4. Kathy says:

    Would 4,000 deaths be a relatively small price to pay to stop al Qaeda and stabilize the Middle East? My goodness, yes. We’d make that back preventing one 9-11 scale attack.

    What do you mean when you write that “we’d make that back preventing one 9/11 scale attack”? The implication seems to be that the 4,000 deaths would be reversed. If I spend $2,400 on the latest Dell laptop with all the bells and whistles, and then as a direct result of having that technology, I am offered a project that pays $2,500, that means I’ve wiped out that investment. The investment has paid for itself and I haven’t lost any money.

    Is that an apt analogy for the deaths of 4,000 men and women in war? Those lives have not really been lost?

    Also, what does 9/11 have to do with decisions regarding the Iraq war? There is no connection between the Iraq war and 9/11.

  5. spencer says:

    The logic seems good to me, if you support the war you must agree with him.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    I would love to hear the attempts to justify that what Boehner said was wrong, but Obama was right to call ethnic cleansing in Iraq a positive thing.

  7. LaurenceB says:

    I have a brother and a nephew who are both among the “injured” statistics for this war, so I care deeply about the soldiers’ safety. But I believe Boehner (and James) are both correct in their logic. If this war is really worth fighting, then the price (in American lives – Iraqis may beg to differ) has not been too steep.

    Although I opposed this war from the outset, I don’t entirely approve of the tactics from the anti-war side when they cite fatalities and financial costs of the war as a reason for ending it. When it comes right down to it, if this war had been both cheap and easy I still would have opposed it – mostly because I just don’t think unilateral, “pre-emptive” wars are good things.

  8. Triumph says:

    The price of war, however, must be measured against the stakes. The United States, with a population well under half the current total, lost 291,557 dead and 670,846 wounded in World War II. In exchange, we defeated the forces of Fascism (and launched half a century of Cold War).

    Are you somehow equating Bush’s reckless invasion of Iraq with WWII?

  9. Barry says:

    “The price of war, however, must be measured against the stakes. The United States, with a population well under half the current total, lost 291,557 dead and 670,846 wounded in World War II. In exchange, we defeated the forces of Fascism (and launched half a century of Cold War).”

    It does amaze me that people are still pulling out WWII, or the Civil War, as proper comparisons.

  10. James Joyner says:

    Also, what does 9/11 have to do with decisions regarding the Iraq war? There is no connection between the Iraq war and 9/11.

    Never said it did. We are, however, fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. Further, I’m using it in terms of Boehner’s conditional: it’s worth it “if we’re able to stop al Qaeda here.”

    It does amaze me that people are still pulling out WWII, or the Civil War, as proper comparisons.

    I’m not saying they’re alike in all respects, merely that wars can achieve significant positive change but that they come at an enormous price. The cost-benefit analysis must be made in those terms.

  11. cian says:

    it’s worth it “if we’re able to stop al Qaeda here.”

    Which Al Qaeda, James? The ones in Pakistan, London, Madrid, Berlin, Asia, Africa and maybe even America. The ones flocking to Al Qaeda’s cause from all over the world, funding its plans and aiding in their attacks?

    The very idea that our actions in Iraq will somehow defeat the people who attacked us on 9/11 is not just wrong, its dangerously wrong and continuing this kind of thinking strengthens them and weakens us.

  12. Triumph says:

    I’m not saying they’re alike in all respects, merely that wars can achieve significant positive change but that they come at an enormous price. The cost-benefit analysis must be made in those terms.

    What has been missing in the whole analysis of the Iraq mess, however, is the opportunity costs associated with military resolution of conflict as opposed to other forms of dispute resolution.

    Wars are not the only way to achieve change. Because of Bush’s mendacious militaristic myopia, we tend to forget this.

  13. racrecir says:

    Would 4,000 deaths be a relatively small price to pay to stop al Qaeda and stabilize the Middle East?

    That goal was achieved in December 2001.

    Enjoy your think tank gig; you’ll fit right in.

  14. Andy says:

    So, we just need to have 4000 mostly young Americans die and spend about a trillion dollars to stop terrorists from killing another 3000 Americans?

    Wow, that new math is something.

  15. Andy says:

    Never said it did. We are, however, fighting al Qaeda in Iraq.

    Like the Bush Administration continues to do to this day, you’re drawing comparisons that should not be make.

    And AQI is in Iraq because WE are in Iraq. And it is NOT the same group that attacked us on September 11.

  16. C.Wagener says:

    AQI is the same ideology as the people that attacked us on 9/11. If Iraq continues to play out as it has recently, AQ is humiliated and shown to be impotent. As a bonus they are being destroyed, in part, by Sunnis. ME Muslims need to reject Islamic Fascism/Nihilism for this to end and they might just be doing so.

    Good luck to us all.

  17. Kathy says:

    We are, however, fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. Further, I’m using it in terms of Boehner’s conditional: it’s worth it “if we’re able to stop al Qaeda here.”

    Still doesn’t work, James. Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda — the Al Qaeda that was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center, is not the same organization as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Two entirely different groups. The whole point here is that we would not have to BE fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq if we had not invaded Iraq, because Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until AFTER we invaded Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a *consequence* of the U.S. invasion, not a cause or a reason for staying.

  18. James Joyner says:

    Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda — the Al Qaeda that was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center, is not the same organization as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Two entirely different groups.

    AQ means “the base.” It’s a lose umbrella organization for Islamists and has been since the beginning. It was cobbled together from existing groups with their own agendas; OBL unified them into going after the West first. AQI/AQM is very much part of that movement.

    The whole point here is that we would not have to BE fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq if we had not invaded Iraq, because Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until AFTER we invaded Iraq.

    That’s not quite the case. True, Zarqawi changed his group’s name to AQM after the invasion for branding purposes. It predated the invasion, however.

    It is true, though, that the invasion acted as a magnet for jihadists. I rather doubt these people are going to go lead productive lives when American forces leave, however.

  19. Kathy says:

    True, Zarqawi changed his group’s name to AQM after the invasion for branding purposes. It predated the invasion, however.

    There was no organization called Al Qaeda in Iraq before the invasion. Saddam Hussein’s regime was a highly centralized government over which Hussein exerted the strongest possible control. You could say that Saddam’s regime was the terrorist organization, but there was no Al Qaeda. Saddam would not have stood for any organization that he could not control or that stood outside his government.

    I just don’t understand why this point is still even being argued. Even official government reports have said that Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the invasion. An entire array of Middle East experts, intelligence professionals, etc., have said unequivocally there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the invasion.

    I don’t understand this collective insanity that continues to insist that Al Qaeda was operating in Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in power.

    I rather doubt these people are going to go lead productive lives when American forces leave, however.

    Probably not. And I don’t know that anybody has said they are. That’s not a reason for staying, though.