Published on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 by the Boston Globe
Money For War, But Not Much Else
by Derrick Z. Jackson
TWICE IN HIS ADDRESS to ask for a fresh $87 billion for the occupation and restoration of Iraq, President Bush used the most useless word of his presidency: sacrifice. He opened his speech by saying, "These months have been a time of new responsibilities and sacrifice and national resolve and great progress." Later, he said, "This will take time and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure."
Bush has not asked civilians to sacrifice a thing since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The heaviest lifting he asked us to do was haul our luggage to the airport. Or perhaps you forgot his speech at Chicago's O'Hare Airport two weeks after the attacks where he said, "Get on the airlines. Get about the business of America . . . Get down to Disney World."
It was Freudian for Bush to invoke Disney, as in the two years since, he has produced several blockbuster fantasies. He gave us trillion dollar tax cuts and 93,000 jobs were still cut last month. He gave us an invasion of Iraq over weapons of mass destruction and none have been found, despite the sacrifice of nearly 300 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
Bush gave us permission to plunder the present and sacrifice the future. Making the nation more "secure" has become a euphemism for making it safe for our 5 percent of the world's population to consume a quarter of the world's oil.
As Bush rejects virtually every domestic and global effort to preserve the environment, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles accounted for nearly 25 percent of new car sales for the first six months of 2003, a record. In the first six months of 2002, Americans purchased 1.85 million SUVs. In the first six months of 2003, sales climbed to over 2 million.
Bush's proposed $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq, combined with the previous $79 billion for the invasion, means that $166 billion would be spent by the fall of 2004. Historians are bound to look back on this as the deadliest distortion of priorities of our lifetime. A comparison of Iraq funding to Bush's other priorities speaks for itself.
The $166 billion for two years dwarfs the $15 billion Bush pledged to spend over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. On average, Bush would spend $3 billion a year. So far he has asked for only $2 billion for the first year.
The $83 billion a year average for Iraq dwarfs the $60 billion Bush spent on American education in fiscal 2003, even as his Leave No Child Behind program is already in tatters, so poorly funded that few children in failing schools can actually transfer to a better school.
Bush says he wants $83 billion a year to give Iraq a jump start, but for Head Start, Bush's fellow Republicans never find the resolve to fully fund it. The current budget of $6.5 billion reaches only 60 percent of low-income preschoolers.
The $83 billion average for Iraq is more than the $71 billion budget for the Department of Labor, which has proved to be a weapon of mass destruction all by itself. As Bush has successfully distracted Americans with flag-waving rallies for revenge against Osama bin Laden (also yet to be found) and for war against Saddam Hussein, the American economy has lost 2.7 million jobs over the last three years. Bush is not asking the nation for money to restore those jobs.
Bush wants $83 billion a year for Iraq while 41 million Americans, one out of every seven, go without health insurance. Bush whipped up Americans over fears of anthrax, but at home 10 percent of American children do not have coverage for basic vaccines, according to the National Academies of Science.
Bush spends money for war as if the money comes out of nowhere. Of course it has to come from somewhere. The reason he can talk about sacrifice is because he is gambling that the people who are being sacrificed do not have the clout to complain about it. He wants $166 billion for war and Iraq's infrastructure even as funding for Section 8 vouchers for low-income families, currently $11.7 billion, is at risk of cutting out 114,000 families because it is unable to keep up with the rising costs of housing.
It is two years after the terrorist attacks. It is nearly six months after the United States invaded Iraq. Bush asked us to fly to Disney World. With his request for $87 billion, he has again asked us to fly to his latest fantasy. It is easy for him to ask since most of the sacrifices will be involuntary, from the people he assumes have the least resolve to fight them.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.