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Country needs straight answers from Bush on Iraq
by Ed Garvey
August 19, 2003

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "We have waded in blood so deep that to return is as dangerous as to go forward." We are stuck in Iraq. Period. We can't leave, we can't afford to stay, we can't go back to status quo ante. No apologies from the Bush administration about lack of planning for "victory" will permit us to leave. True, a pipeline explosion, a firefight, another soldier killed has moved from the front pages of our newspapers to Page 5 or 6, but the realities of the situation are indeed daunting and will dominate the campaign for president.

Rebuilding Iraq will cost between $400 billion and $600 billion. Military costs for Afghanistan and Iraq are $6 billion or 7 billion per month and things are not going so well in either place. American influence in Afghanistan is limited to Kabul. No one is even asking the cost of rebuilding Afghanistan. If administration officials know, they are not talking. What is the plan to hold Afghanistan? Will it be to send more troops to act as targets for terrorism or leave it to NATO? Any bets on how long NATO countries will remain if German, Dutch and French soldiers are regularly killed?

Twelve years of sanctions and two wars against Iraq have left them in a desperate condition. Suppose we had an administration that leveled with the people and a president who would go on national television and explain that we are obligated to rebuild their hospitals, schools, highways, airports and indeed their economy. Suppose he said, "My fellow Americans. We are going to spend 600 billion dollars over the next three years to rebuild this country. To raise that money, we are going to ask all Americans, including the wealthy, to contribute to the cause. We will begin by repealing the tax cuts. And we will cut our defense budget by $100 billion per year."

Suppose he admitted that postwar Iraq cannot be rebuilt while it remains an active war zone and to stop that war, we need more troops. "Turns out the people who were anti-Saddam are not really pro-American. Why? Possibly because we armed Saddam for our interests in Iran, but we can't ignore 12 years of misery exacted by our sanctions. And no one likes an occupying army."

What would happen if George Bush were suddenly hit with an irresistible urge to tell the truth? The right wing of his party would probably call for a new candidate in 2004. These extremists don't care how much it costs. Why? Because the true believers like Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, described in the New York Times magazine as "a group of zealous economic conservatives," are out to destroy government as we have known it since the Great Depression. The Club for Growth and other extremists who control the Republican agenda want to create huge budget deficits to force government to get out of the business of governing. Let the private sector do it all. Poverty and suffering are not their concern.

Here we are in mid-August, a mere 14 months from the next election for president, and we are broke. This is like the bride and groom discussing where they will go for an exotic honeymoon while filling out their Chapter 7 bankruptcy form and cutting up their credit cards.

Most Democrats and independents assume that Bush and the boys just stumbled into this mess. It was a lack of planning, incompetence, or bad luck that we were not ready for an ill-equipped and less than competent Iraqi army to collapse. But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are very smart people with access to the best and most thoughtful information available anywhere and this mess was known in advance and accepted as part of their election strategy.

Think how they have set the table for this election. America, burdened with Iraq, Afghanistan, and huge domestic deficits can't afford Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, smaller class size, more money for special education, affordable housing, new bridges, or an efficient power grid. So what is there to talk about? Terrorism on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and defense needs on Tuesday and Thursday. Privatization on the weekend.

If the Democratic nominee demands single-payer national health care, the right wing talk show hosts will squeal in unison that we "can't afford it." And, since taxes have been shifted from the wealthy and the corporate sector to the individual through payroll taxes, property taxes, user fees and sales tax, the Republicans will demand more tax cuts. When faced with a $500 billion deficit on top of $60 billion or $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention rebuilding costs, Bush will argue the old bromide of supply siders: "Eliminate taxes and the wealthy will invest in America."

Howard Cosell used to say, "You deserve whatever you get." I never quite accepted that thought but if we permit the anti-government folks to dominate the debate in 2004, we will deserve another four years of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. But before we move to the domestic agenda, where poverty, failing schools, poor health care, lack of affordable housing, decaying inner cities compel our attention, we must demand real answers from the administration on the plans for turning the Iraq "problem" over to the United Nations, the cost of rebuilding Iraq and how much they are prepared to commit to that task.

We deserve some honesty from those responsible for our troops in Iraq. Perhaps the congressional Democrats should follow the lead of Texas Democrats and simply shut down the place until Bush answers these questions: "How much, how long, how many troops, what's the plan?" Unless they get the answers, pity the poor Democrat who wins the nomination.

Ed Garvey, a Madison lawyer and the editor of the www.fightingbob.com website, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998.

© 2003 Topplebush.com
August 20, 2003

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