As U.S. forces march across the dry, sandy Iraqi desert on their way to Baghdad, political wrangling over funding for the war continues in Washington. On Tuesday, President Bush announced a $74.7 billion expense package for the first six months of the war. The dishonest way with which the administration has addressed the issue of the war’s expenses, however, is extremely disconcerting. This policy approach feeds public skepticism and is not in the best interest of the nation.
The Bush administration has not been forthright with the American people in regard to the expected cost of a long war halfway across the globe, culminating in up to 5 to 10 years of occupation and nation building. High-ranking officials in both the White House and the Defense Department have up until this point repeatedly stated that they did not know what the war could cost and that they could not provide the public with any figures, dismissing reporters’ questions with facetious, euphemistic quips describing the value of Iraqi liberation as immeasurable.
Remarkably, the president’s economic advisors were able to come up with the $74.7 billion figure almost immediately after the war began and troops were already in enemy territory. Former White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey seemed to be able to surmise a fairly accurate figure when he said that the war would most likely cost $200 billion. Administration officials then reprimanded Lindsey; there is even speculation that Lindsey’s comment led to his eventual firing. It seems clear that officials have been well aware of the potential monetary costs of the war for months.
Instead of finally – albeit belatedly – coming clean with a cost projection at this point, the administration continues to avoid honestly and completely disclosing complete figures. These numbers are most definitely an underestimate and do not include the potential costs of a prolonged occupation, rebuilding phase and the potentially devastating humanitarian crisis experts expect to unfold. The rebuilding and humanitarian aid phases of this expedition will be crucial for determining its ultimate success or failure. Either this initial number is only the first in a long series of funding requests that the president will make – in which case the administration has not yet comprehended the importance of leveling with the American people – or the administration intends to rebuild Iraq on what could be called a shoestring budget.
Coupled with this de facto dishonesty is the unprecedented decision that the administration has made to pursue significant tax cuts during a war. The president refuses to address the strains that his budget proposals will have on the country’s long-term fiscal outlook. He cuts taxes instead of asking Americans to make up the cost of the war elsewhere. This irresponsible managing of the national budget will only increase future deficits .