Defending his stay-the-course policy in Iraq, President Bush declared: "I believe the American people understand that success is necessary for the long-term security of the American people."
The American people, whose mentality he claims to understand as well as he once understood Vladimir Putin's soul, will next November elect a Republican who will "keep up the fight," he predicted.
The GOP nominee-in-waiting, John McCain, agrees. The American armed forces must remain in Iraq as long as it takes to achieve victory, he insists. How long? Maybe not 100 years, as he once said. Maybe 50? Anyway, as long as it takes. To achieve victory. Whatever that is.
Otherwise, McCain emphasizes, al-Qaeda will take over Iraq (despite the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds, who may have other ideas) and follow us here.
Let us now return to reality. How long can we sustain our armed forces in Iraq?
"The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight, and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., testifying last fall before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for a New American Security recently conducted a survey of more than 3,400 current and former Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine officers, ranking from major and lieutenant commander to generals and admirals, more than two-thirds of whom have combat experience.
The survey found 60 percent saying that the U.S. military is weaker than it was five years ago and nearly 90 percent believing that the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan have "stretched the United States military dangerously thin."
Suppose another crisis should erupt in one of the world's simmering hot spots?
More than 80 percent of the officers say it would be unreasonable to ask the military to wage another major war today, the survey reports.
So much for the military side. How long can we sustain the civilian side?
In the eighth year of the Bush administration, the national debt has soared to more than $9 trillion. Thanks to the Chinese and the Japanese, we continue going into debt with them so that we can buy their products and they can continue to buy our government securities.
The Iraq war has so far cost around two-thirds of a trillion dollars, and we continue to spend at the rate of $10 billion a month. It's been estimated that the Iraq war could end up costing $2 trillion and quite possibly much more than that. Whenever it ends.
Meanwhile, the American housing market is going into the toilet, with foreclosures at an all-time high. The national infrastructure - roads, bridges, transportation, public works - is falling apart. Jobs are tougher to keep and get. The costs of food and fuel are going up. The stock market is going down. A college education is more and more out of reach for more and more of our young people. About 47 million citizens are without health insurance. The mood of many Americans ranges from nervousness to despair to panic.
As in Iraq, so in the United States: Bush would stay his course. He turns down a bipartisan appeal by governors to bolster the sagging economy by helping the states rebuild their infrastructure. He rejects extending unemployment benefits for six months, which would put money in Americans' pockets immediately. He twice vetoes bills that would extend the children's health insurance program to 5.8 million children. Too expensive.
He would save money by holding the line or cutting back on Medicaid, Medicare, education and the environment. His solution to the housing crisis: "Make the tax cuts we passed permanent." That is, the tax cuts that bestow their greatest largesse on those whose income ranks in the upper-2-percent bracket.
Bush does not think it too expensive, though, to spend billions on gold-plated weapons systems - the Star Wars missile-defense system, for example - that have nothing to do with fighting terror. The 2009 fiscal budget would allocate $515 billion in military spending, and that doesn't include spending on two wars and nuclear weapons.
Always upbeat, Bush sees the bright side for our economy.
As he observed the other day, "I think actually the spending on the war might help with jobs 'cause we're buying equipment and people are working."
Leonard Boasberg is a former Inquirer staff writer.
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