Recall the infamous line from the Vietnam War, uttered by the Army commander who was about to torch a village: "We have to destroy the village in order to save it." Well, to paraphrase this line, George W. Bush may have to lose the 2002 election if his preemptive invasion of Iraq is to produce the results that now simply must be produced.
Bush's request for $87 billion for military and economic aid to Iraq puts the dilemma in bold relief. Just consider what would have to be cut out of the federal budget if we were to find the money without adding to the federal deficit:
* Zero out the Department of Energy (Sorry, no Hanford cleanup)
* Ax the Department of Homeland Security (Terrorism? What, us worry?)
* Close down the Department of Interior (Who needs national parks?)
* Wipe out the Department of Justice (No more FBI)
* Shut down the EPA (Those toxic waste cleanups were a drag anyway)
Do all this and we still remain a billion or so short.
OK, so how about zapping the Foreign Service? (Who needs another Joe Wilson to mess things up?)
Do all this and we leave a few billion on the table in anticipation of the next chunk of taxpayer's change needed for Iraq.
These cuts add up to about 25 percent of the non-defense discretionary spending in the President's most recent budget.
You want more numbers, some with a local flavor? Try out this one: Bush's request exceeds the entire annual operating budget of the state of California -- by $25 billion! That's right, Gray Davis's much-criticized operating budget is much smaller than Bush's first big Iraq payment. (Remember, California is a state about the size of Iraq but with 30 percent more in population.)
But we know Congress will vote up that $87 billion, just before they urge more tax-cutting.
The optimistic comparisons some make between the Iraqi situation and the Marshall Plan would seem a bit of a stretch. Keep in mind, only a few months before Germany surrendered in May 1945, their industrial war machine, under heavy bombardment from the air and about to be overrun, was producing weapons at record levels. The Strategic Bombing Survey conducted after the war concluded that the bombing hadn't had all that much impact on Germany's capability to produce. In Berlin, as late as April 1945, life went on. Cornelius Ryan, in his book, The Last Battle, writes that "Even with the city almost under the Russian guns, the vast majority of Berlin's industrial concerns were producing." Shops remained open. The weather was forecast every day. The Philharmonic continued playing concerts.
The Marshall Plan was built on the beat-up foundations of the second most advanced industrial country in the world, one that shared a cultural history with its conquerors. In Iraq there's none of that. Instead, we are occupying a country plagued by deep religious divisions, a country that has been in a state of economic deterioration for at least three decades -- and serious collapse during the last 10 years. Its political and social deterioration has been going on for much longer than that. Arguing that Iraq is the most westernized of the Arab countries really doesn't address the bigger question: Compared to what? Iraq can't be compared to post-World War II Germany. It doesn't even compare favorably with Bosnia or Kosovo. We are staring at a responsibility that promises to be far more costly and difficult than what we faced in the years after 1945.
Because of Bush, America now bears a burden that it cannot unload. We must succeed in Iraq, and to do this and not risk a budgetary meltdown, we need the help and involvement of allies. While acknowledging the lack of such support, the editors of The New Republic chide the Democrats for not falling in behind the President's request for the $87 billion anyway. They write that "our allies have shown no interest in sending soldiers to Iraq under virtually any conditions."
But this sentence remains incomplete. They should have added the words: "...except maybe one, the removal of George W. Bush from office."
The Western world, with the exception of Great Britain under the besieged Tony Blair, gives every indication of having become permanently estranged from Bush.
Not America, just George W. Bush.
As the late Senator Everett Dirkson put it, "A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you're talking about real money." We are now talking about real money. Yet so long as Bush remains in office, it appears as if America will be picking up the tab, at great risk to our economy.
We need a president who can regain our allies' confidence and support; without that, our situation looms precarious. Either that, or we fail in Iraq. Which is not an option.
Which brings us back to Bush and next year's election. For the president, it looks as if to win is lose, and to lose is to win.
Publication date: 10/09/03