Friday, September 28, 2007

Runaway (Spending) Train

The New York Times
Runaway (Spending) Train

If, as he says, President Bush is going to start withdrawing troops from Iraq, why on earth does he need vastly more money from Congress to wage war? The staggering, ever escalating numbers tell the real story: As long as it’s up to Mr. Bush, the American presence in Iraq will be endless and ever more costly, diverting resources from other national priorities that are being ignored or shortchanged.

The administration showed its cards on Wednesday when it asked Congress for an additional $42.3 billion in “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. This comes on top of the original 2008 spending request, which was made before Mr. Bush announced his so-called “new strategy” of partial withdrawal. It would bring the 2008 war bill to nearly $190 billion, the largest single-year total for the wars and an increase of 15 percent from 2007.

And here are a few more facts to put the voracious war machine in context: By year’s end, the cost for both conflicts since Sept. 11, 2001, is projected to reach more than $800 billion. Iraq alone has cost the United States more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the Gulf War and the Korean War and will probably surpass the Vietnam War by the end of next year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

For officials and politicians used to dealing with eye-popping numbers, the additional $42.3 billion may just register as a few more zeros on the bottom line of a staggeringly big bill. But it’s more than enough to cover the five-year $35 billion proposal for children’s health-care coverage that Mr. Bush has threatened to veto.

This for a war that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said would cost under $50 billion while his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, predicted Iraqi oil revenues would largely pay for Iraq’s reconstruction.

It’s not that Americans don’t want to pay and equip the courageous men and women who defend their freedom. In fact, since 9/11, taxpayers have been remarkably stalwart in underwriting massive war-fighting increases. But the Pentagon budget has to make sense within the larger context of national security. Mr. Bush seems to be placing no financial check whatsoever on military spending, most of it devoted to a war in Iraq that is peripheral to the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are most active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Americans also should ask why the Pentagon should be entrusted with more tax dollars when it can’t seem to spend what it has wisely. Military officials recently revealed that contracts worth more than $90 billion are being investigated — $6 billion for possible criminal charges, the rest for financial irregularities. According to the vague details made public, the new money would pay for the continued American troop presence in Iraq, the purchase of armored vehicles and training Iraq’s new army. But it also contains funds for longer-term goals, such as replacing outdated equipment.

Congress must dissect this request carefully, find out why Mr. Bush suddenly needed to ask for the extra money and use the chance to reshape the failed strategy in Iraq. In other words, lawmakers should join Democrat Robert C. Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in pledging there will be “no more blank checks for Iraq.”