Hey, $1 billion here, $1 billion there, who's counting? Not the State Department, which admitted this week that it can't say "specifically what it received" for the $1.2 billion it paid DynCorp, ostensibly to train the Iraqi police - other than that somebody got an Olympic-size swimming pool out of the deal.
On Monday, President Bush demanded that Congress fork over another $46 billion to pay for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, insisting that it be approved by the end of the year. That brings the total requested this year in "supplementary funds" for his foreign adventures to $196.4 billion. The prez said Congress had best pony up, or the members would be betraying the family of the dead Marine that he was using as prop for this particular White House photo-op.
Of course the Democrats, after some pussyfooting, will sign off, as they have for the rest of the more than $800 billion that will have been allotted to Iraq and Afghanistan by year's end, lest they be accused of failing the troops that Bush has put in harm's way. "Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C.," Bush warned darkly, while edging ever closer to the family of the fallen Marine. "I often hear that war critics oppose my decisions, but still support the troops," he said. "Well, I'll take them at their word - and this is the chance to show it."
I half-expected some leading Democrat to respond, "Hey, you want support for the troops, I'll see your $46 billion and raise you another $46 billion." But then again, Joe Lieberman is no longer running the party. Instead, the Democrats tried to show that $46 billion is not loose change and that, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, put it, a mere 40 days of the cost of the Iraq war could provided annual health insurance coverage for 10 million American children. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., added that the money might be better spent for law enforcement, homeland security and fixing the nation's sagging infrastructure, but his argument wasn't going to get any better traction than Pelosi's. As Reid pointed out, "this intractable civil war in Iraq ... is being paid for by borrowed money."
Sure, some day the Chinese communists and others holding our debt will have to be paid back with compounded interest, but for now the war has been successfully marketed as a financial freebie. Leave it to the next generation to wake up and discover that this war, which in constant dollars has already cost more than the Korean or Vietnam wars, prevents Congress from implementing any of the needed domestic programs, even those advocated by both parties, as was the children's health insurance bill vetoed by Bush last week. But even if you think none of that domestic spending is needed, even for fixing Medicare and Social Security, the cost of this war will require a substantial increase in taxes over coming decades.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the future additional costs of these wars over the next 10 years at between at between $481 billion to $1.01 trillion, depending on how fast the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wound down. Those are extremely optimistic projections that assume these wars will wind down and that the United States will be able to finally climb out of the quagmire. Much more likely is the spread of those wars to neighboring battle theaters in Pakistan and Iran. And that's without conjuring up the prospect of WWIII, as Bush did last week.
Understand further that all of the numbers referenced above refer only to that part of the defense budget directly attributable to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Post-9/11 defense spending, excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has increased 40 percent to build high-tech Cold War-era weapons in a charade that assumes that stateless terrorists present a military challenge even greater than the once mighty Soviet Union's armed forces. The $686 billion overall 2008 defense budget is the highest since World War II.
There was a time when responsible politicians would sharply decry this looting of the public treasury, but not now, when we are in the midst of a never-ending "war on terror." Not now, when a Marine dies a needless death in Iraq, a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 or in any substantiated way presented a threat to the United States, and his family can be produced as cover for a president determined to morally and financially bankrupt the nation.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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