It’s now only 13 months before the 2004 presidential election and George Bush, who has repeatedly proclaimed that the Iraq War will define his presidency, has finally admitted that the cost of waging that war – or winning the peace – is going to cost a lot more than he thought.
For months, the White House has been dodging the “estimate bullet” although leaky-leaky, some things have seeped out. Larry Lindsay, former White House economics adviser, resigned after saying that the all-in costs of the Iraq effort might top $200 billion. Maybe the number “200” resonated, because former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki estimated that 200,000 troops would be necessary to secure post-war Iraq and provide humanitarian assistance. But in the Bush administration, honesty is the best policy … if you want to spend the rest of your life in retirement playing golf. Put another way, among the Bushies, the words “You are right” and “Hasta La Vista” mean the same thing.
So what is the Bush administration’s plan? Frankly, it’s much easier to describe what the plan isn’t. Just ask Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. During his recent visit to Baghdad, he told everybody what the plan wasn’t. One thing that he said it wasn’t was America’s problem. “I don’t believe it’s our job to reconstruct the country,” the bespectacled hawkeyed Hawk said, adding that the “Iraqi people will have to reconstruct the country over a period of time.”
Now the Bushies realize that the oil revenue windfall that was supposed to give every Iraqi 40 acres and a mule is not quite the bonanza hoped for. So what’s Rummy’s idea about development? Well, think Miami Beach, but with a Middle Eastern flavor. Break out the waiters coats and the maid uniforms because tourism tops his list. “Tourism is going to be something important in that country as soon as the security situation is resolved,” Rummy, a former captain of industry himself, volunteered.
I can just see the publicity campaign now: “Visit Baghdad Today – Home of the Homemade Landmine,” or perhaps, “Tikrit Welcomes You … To Hell.” Actually, there’s nothing humorous about the United States’ inability to control security. Our brave soldiers (and Iraqi policemen) are daily being picked off by Baathist and jihadi scumbags while Rummy paints a picture of Disneyland on the Euphrates.
In the meantime, President Bush has dispatched his trusty secretary of state, tin cup in hand, to beg the so-called “international community” (formerly known as “our allies”) for money to help reconstruct Iraq. These countries, so generous with their words, advice and suggestions have thus far dropped a measly $2 billion into Colin Powell’s cup. Of course, all the secretary of state is really doing is providing a fig leaf for congressmen who are taking it on the ear from constituents about why, with the U.S. economy lagging, we should be bailing out Iraqis. And how does Powell explain the lack of international enthusiasm for helping win a peace for a war practically every one of them opposed? He describes it as “donor fatigue.”
Meanwhile, on Sept. 11 at the White House press conference, Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, was grilled over the “infrastructure numbers” (translation: how much will it cost) to fix Iraq. His answer would make the Enron accounting department proud. When asked about Ambassador Paul Bremer’s estimate of $75 billion to repair the infrastructure of Iraq, he explained that Bush has budgeted $20 billion out of the $87 billion toward that goal. But this will be offset by expected oil revenues of $12 billion this year and $20 billion next year. (Stop the presses! The next time you’re audited, try promising the Internal Revenue Service that your taxes “should” be paid out of “expected” revenues from next year.).
So you do the math – even if all the oil revenues come in as planned (dubious) that still leaves us $23 billion short. Now granted, as George Bush is proving daily, he’s an expert at deficits, but there isn’t a printing press to cover this one. So where will the money come from? Certainly not the Russians, who are still owed billions by Iraq. That leaves just one party: Uncle Sugar, aka Uncle Sucker, aka Uncle Sam. In case your accounting is bad, that’s shorthand for you and me.
When asked if the U.S. was going to get stuck with the shortfall, spokesman McClellan would only say that, “We are basing our assessments based on the facts on the ground.” The only thing on the ground is what’s going through the roof – the actual cost of reconstructing Iraq.
Even Republicans are astounded at the price tag. Sen. George Allen from Virginia, a Republican, said, “The amount of money is horrendous, but what do you do?” I’ll tell you what candidate Howard Dean wants to do. He’s figured out that half of what we’re now spending in Iraq could pay for the health care of every American for at least one year.
And if Sen. Allen wants to know what to do, I’ve got an idea for him: Vote Democrat!