Bush's Speech Highlights the Many Victims of This War of Choice
One of the outgrowths of Bush’s speech on Sunday night is that it highlights the nonmilitary victims that Skippy’s war of choice has caused. We know painfully well by now about the lies told by Bush and the cabal to force this country into a war of choice, not of necessity. We learn every day about the dead and wounded US soldiers who are used as geopolitical pawns for a failed war on terrorism planned by chickenhawk zealots who have never fired a shot in combat. And we will soon see a series of political victims as well from this debacle, as the GOP tries to campaign next year on why it is important to rebuild Iraq and protect millionaire tax cuts while breaking campaign promises and ignoring basic needs here at home. Add to this the now-increasing attacks on Bush's credibility and character, and an intelligence community that shows signs once again of striking back at the White House, and what you see is that there will be many victims of the war of choice here at home as well, including the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
First, the GOP will be a victim in next year’s elections. By having to tie their wagons to Skippy’s star next year, House and Senate GOP incumbents and candidates will have to swear allegiance to the Bush desire to forego all other major domestic spending needs to pay for the Iraqi sinkhole, which is already being estimated to cost much more than the $87 billion that Bush officially asked for Sunday. And the White House is now admitting that they underestimated the rebuilding costs already.
You already see the GOP using the sinkhole as an excuse not to fund needs and 2000 campaign promises like a Medicare drug benefit.
"People are going to want to ask a lot of questions over here," said Representative William M. Thornberry of Texas, a Republican member of the Budget and Armed Services Committees. "They'll want to see a lot of details, particularly about oil revenue. But in the end, they'll support it, mostly because there is really no alternative."
Mr. Thornberry said the size of the commitment could force Congress to slow down on spending elsewhere, and predicted that some members would now be far more reluctant to approve a prescription drug benefit for Medicare or other big-ticket spending proposals.
Democrats are waiting for such a mistake by the GOP, and have already begun pointing out the choices facing the country by Skippy’s war of choice.
Democrats, aware of the growing pressure on their own spending priorities, said staying in Iraq should not require domestic sacrifices, and promised an intense debate on the administration's agenda. Nearly 75 Democrats in the House are co-sponsoring a bill written by Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois that would require the administration to spend the same amount on rebuilding schools and hospitals in the United States as it spends in Iraq.
Although it has no chance of passage, Mr. Emanuel's bill is intended to demonstrate to the public the choices made by the administration, and the party's leadership plans to do the same. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader, said the administration must not neglect the needs of American children in overcrowded classrooms as it brings stability to Iraq.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said taxpayers deserved to know how spending on Iraq would affect unmet domestic needs. "Congress will provide our service men and women with whatever resources they need to accomplish their mission," Representative Pelosi said. "The president's spending request on infrastructure will be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny."
Two senior Democrats said the spending bill required holding back the president's tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers. Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic Whip, said the cuts had left the nation ill prepared to fight against terrorism. Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, said the cuts for upper-income Americans should be suspended as an example of the sacrifice called for by the president.
Several senior Democrats are planning to demand an accounting of international cooperation before they approve the reconstruction money. Senator Levin said the proposal would require the administration to report to Congress on its efforts to round up global support and explain which countries are taking part and which have refused. The reconstruction money would be released when the report is received, he said, adding that the military portion of the bill would probably be approved with few objections.
And even GOP allies feel that the $87 billion is low, based on yet-to-materialize assumptions that other countries and Iraqi oil revenue will help pay these costs.
"I still remember candidate Bush's maxim that we shouldn't be nation builders," said Representative Tom Feeney, Republican of Florida. "We can't be the nanny of the world. We have an absolute responsibility to protect the safety of American men and women over in Iraq, but not when it comes to writing checks for their schools and health systems."
After being briefed by administration officials on Capitol Hill today, one Republican official said the real cost of reconstruction would be $75 billion. After contributing $20.3 billion, the administration expects Iraqi oil revenues to supply another $12 billion, with the international community contributing the balance of $42.7 billion, the Congressional official said.
"That's a lot of change left on the table for our allies to pick up," the official said. "If our friends don't come through, this is going to be much more expensive than it now looks."
The fiscal recklessness of this Administration is starting to seep through with the release of this estimate of the costs of the sinkhole, and Bush’s failure to pay for it.
If approved by Congress, President Bush's supplement spending request for Iraq would aggravate the administration's already severe fiscal problems just as it heads into an election year — the worst possible time to push for spending cuts in other programs. Adding $87 billion to the budget for 2004 would raise the government's projected deficit for next year to $550 billion. More worrisome to economists than the absolute number of dollars involved is that the deficit would amount to nearly 5 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. That is clearly entering the danger zone, approaching the record percentage level reached under President Reagan in 1986.
The additional money for Iraq would make it all the more unlikely that Mr. Bush can reach the goal, established just two months ago, of reducing the expected deficit by half — to $238 billion — by 2006.
White House officials said today that they would not offset the costs of the bill by either postponing the tax cuts or cutting nonmilitary spending this year, thus adding the full amount of the bill to the deficit. One official said the actual spending from the bill would be $60 billion in 2004, keeping the deficit at $540 billion, which the official said could still be cut in half within five years.
If the GOP wants to wade into the thicket of campaigning on why we need to send $100 billion over to Iraq but cannot afford a Medicare drug benefit, better classrooms, safer ports and streets, a solvent Social Security system, and universal health insurance, then the Democrats should be only too happy to beat their brains out next year. It is quite simple: your upper bracket tax cuts must be repealed Mr. Bush to pay for Iraq and your broken domestic promises.
And extending the Army Reserve and National Guard’s tours of duty to a year is not likely to make Bush very popular amongst those families by November 2004.
With the intelligence community telling their best friend Walter Pincus at the Post that they indeed did tell the White House that things would be difficult in post-war Iraq, it is clear that Tenet is not going away and the issue of White House and Bush competence to run foreign policy will be a legitimate campaign issue.
After Bush’s credibility was in tatters over the lies told to get us into Iraq, it is now his character that is a victim. Today’s lead editorial in the New York Times is the most damning indictment of the man that I have seen from a major newspaper:
His judgment about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq appears to have been wrong — and, worse, hyped. But over all, it was a bad guess that was shared by intelligence experts from the Clinton administration and many allies.
Other wrong turns, however, were chosen because of a fundamental flaw in the character of this White House. Despite his tough talk, Mr. Bush seems incapable of choosing a genuinely tough path, of risking his political popularity with the same aggression that he risks the country's economic stability and international credibility. For all the trauma the United States has gone through during his administration, Mr. Bush has never asked the American people to respond to new challenges by making genuine sacrifices.
He committed the military to war, but he told civilians they deserved big tax cuts. He seems determined to remake the Middle East without doing anything serious about reducing our dependence on Middle East oil. His energy policy is a grab bag of giveaways to domestic oil and gas lobbyists. He refuses to ask for even the smallest compromise when it comes to fuel-efficient cars.
The pattern goes further. Mr. Bush rolled out a domestic agenda that included some ambitious programs aimed at lifting up America's least fortunate, particularly his No Child Left Behind education package. But in this — as in the African AIDS initiative and even his controversial faith-based initiative for social services — Mr. Bush has been content to take the credit for proposing, without paying the political dues necessary to get things done. Certainly most American parents, whose public schools are racked by state and local budget crises, are not feeling that their children are enjoying better educational opportunity. The AIDS program that got such a positive response when the president unveiled it has been underfinanced by Congress, with the White House's encouragement.
Even the administration's foreign policy reflects its tendency to go for quick gratification without much thought of the gritty long haul. The invasion of Iraq appears to have been planned by people who assumed that after a swift military assault, Saddam Hussein would be gone and Iraq would quickly snap into a prosperous, semidemocratic state that would be a model for the rest of the Middle East.
When it turned out that things were far more complicated, the president hedged on the price tag — apparently out of fear that if Congress knew how high the bill was going to be, there would not be enough votes for another round of tax cuts. Congress, however, was happy enough to be deluded until it was too late. Now we know the cost is going to be massive, with much of the tab to be paid by the future generations who will be saddled with the Bush debt.
The United States has no clear exit strategy from Iraq or immediate hope of a turnaround in a violent, complicated and expensive commitment. The hard realities of postwar Iraq have convinced Mr. Bush that he needs the United Nations support he snubbed before the invasion. But even there he is avoiding the hard choice of acknowledging his error and ceding real authority to other nations. Diplomats are wondering, with good reason, whether Mr. Bush is embarking on a new era of international cooperation or simply giving them permission to clean up his mess.
Mr. Bush is a man who was reared in privilege, who succeeded in both business and politics because of his family connections. The question during the presidential campaign was whether he was anything more than just a very lucky guy. There were times in the past three years when he has been much more than that, and he may no longer be a man who expects to find an easy way out of difficulties. But now, at the moment when we need strong leadership most, he is still a politician who is incapable of asking the people to make hard choices. And we are paying the price.
And aside from the well-deserved bashing he gets from Paul Krugman today over his lies, other victims from this travesty are becoming clear, but with no sorrow on my part. Rummy’s standing within the White House has fallen as a result of the botched “peace” that BushCo have brought to Iraq, and as usual the Bushies are quick to dump on anyone who causes political problems for Skippy:
William Kristol, a conservative publisher with close ties to the administration, said today that Mr. Rumsfeld's standing had fallen with some White House aides. "Rumsfeld assured them he knew what he was doing in the run-up to the war, and he was utterly vindicated," Mr. Kristol said in an interview. "Then he assured them he had the postwar under control, knew what he was doing, and wanted to run it. Now the White House feels they've been falsely reassured by Rumsfeld."
As if to underscore the point, this week's issue of Mr. Kristol's magazine, The Weekly Standard, which supported the Iraq war, is filled with articles lambasting the current Iraq policy. One article about Mr. Rumsfeld carries the headline, "Secretary of Stubbornness."
Indeed, mid-level White House officials grumble privately that poor postwar planning by the Pentagon has dumped a huge political liability into Mr. Bush's lap.
So the Iraqi travesty and resulting fiscal sinkhole will claim several GOP victims next year, the biggest of which being Bush himself.