WASHINGTON (Combined Sources)–President Bush told Americans Sunday night he will ask Congress for an additional $87 billion to continue the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He will also ask more nations to help pay the cost.
A congressional source said Bush’s request is based on assumptions that the cost of military operations in Iraq alone will exceed $4 billion a month for at least the next year.
In the last week alone–White House officials upped their cost estimates in talks with lawmakers to $87 billion from $65 billion.
The new spending plan will push an already record budget deficit above the $550 billion mark for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1–or around 5 percent of gross domestic product–a level that worries some White House economists.
He also called for more international financial and military support. He said two multinational divisions–led by Britain and Poland–are serving alongside the United States–and that American commanders have requested a third multinational division.
The administration has asked the United Nations to help it establish a new Iraqi government and to authorize a US-led multinational force for Iraq in hopes that it will prompt other countries to contribute troops to stabilize the country.
Bush said that over the next two months–Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet with representatives of many nations to discuss their financial contributions to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Europe–Japan and states in the Middle East all will benefit from the success of freedom in those two countries–and they should contribute to that success," President Bush said.
Referring to France–Germany and Russia–Bush said that "not all of our friends agreed with our decision (to) … remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties."
As senior members of his administration flagged his remarks in a carefully orchestrated media blitz over the weekend–it became clear that US requests for military contributions from important United Nations members were relatively modest. According to Powell–no more than 15,000 troops were needed to complement the 150,000 US soldiers already on the ground alongside 10,500 British troops.
Yesterday–about 120 British soldiers left their base in Cyprus for Iraq in the first of what was expected to be a series of new deploymen’s.
At least one Democratic congressional leader says Bush should fire Rumsfeld and his deputy–Paul Wolfowitz–who were strong advocates for the war against Iraq. The president overhauled his economic team last year after an uproar by lawmakers.
"The Bush team is looking at the end game–putting out as much information now so there are no surprises when the country really focuses on partisan politics,” said Republican consultant Scott Reed–referring to the 2004 election.
Democratic House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt–a candidate for his party’s nomination–was among them.
"The problem now is the president did his photo op–he landed on the aircraft carrier–declared the war was over–but he’s never had a plan–and he’s never gotten us the help that we need and our troops deserve from other countries," Gephardt said.
It was President Bush’s first major speech on Iraq since May 1 when he stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major combat operations. Since then–more Americans have died in Iraq than were killed during the war. The overall death count is 287–149 since his declaration.
Critics say the White House underestimated the financial burden to help build support among Americans for the war–and even dismissed one official–chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey–who spoke out frankly about the potential costs before Bush settled on a course of action.
Then-White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels rejected Lindsey’s estimates–for spending $100 billion to $200 billion on the war–as `"very–very high,” though it would later turn out to be nearly accurate.
"Either they gave us the most rosy scenario or they blurred the cost by withholding information,” said David Sirota of the Center for American Progress–a left-leaning think tank.
Others saw the low-ball budget estimates in the same light as prewar statemen’s by Bush and his aides about an imminent threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction–which have yet to be found.
"It’s clear that the administration had a pattern and practice of not being straight with the American people,” said Dan Feldman–a director of the National Security Council under President Clinton.
CAUGHT OFF GUARD
Administration officials deny intentionally misrepresenting the situation but say they did not realize just how bad things were in Iraq under ousted President Saddam Hussein.
They say they had assumed that much of the infrastructure was in good shape. Rumsfeld in April told reporters about the "funny war” in Iraq in which few bridges and oil wells were destroyed–and said–"the electricity–where it was lost–is for the most part back on.”
Daniels also asserted that oil and gas revenues and confiscated Iraqi assets would provide "abundant” resources for reconstruction–and once pronounced: "There’s just no reason that this can’t be an affordable endeavor.”
But US occupation forces are still struggling to repair the country’s dilapidated water system–and restore power–projects estimated to cost up to $18 billion.
US officials blame saboteurs and looters for setbacks in restoring the oil industry and power supplies and with persistent attacks on US forces have been forced to turn to the United Nations to get help with troops and money.
Like the bill for reconstruction–the military occupation turned out to be more costly than expected. In April–the Pentagon’s chief financial officer estimated the monthly cost of the war at about $2 billion. By early June–the forecast was raised to $3 billion. A month later–it was up to $3.9 billion a month.
Bush conceded last week what US government and outside experts had been saying for months–that the United States could not count on Iraqi oil revenues in the short term.
The administration is still trying to reach prewar production levels–let alone surpass them by as much as 50 percent as Vice President Dick Cheney had predicted.
Administration officials also promised before the war to seek help from US allies to defray the costs–and held up as a model "Operation Tin Cup,” launched after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Bush’s father to pay for that war.
But Bush–who invaded Iraq without the broad international support his father had enjoyed–has yet to secure any major contributions and critics doubt he will. "It is going to be very difficult to go back to the well now,” said Feldman.