Tax Cuts, Food Stamps
And Cost-Free War
By Terrell E. Arnold

Wednesday night President Bush authorized an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein and his core leadership. That move violated a long-standing international rule against killing heads of state. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer justified the attack by saying they lead the country's armed forces and are therefore legitimate military targets. Of course if taking out national leaders who lead their armed forces is now defined as legitimate military targeting, then these new rules make the US Commander in Chief and his national security team equal candidates. Last week USAID announced it had sought and received bids from major US construction and development firms to rebuild Iraq after the war at a cost of $ 900 million. The assumption in this case was that Iraq could be put back together for about $40 per head after so-called "shock and awe" saturation and destruction by America's own panoply of mass destruction weaponry. Those are only the tips of a foreign policy iceberg that is astoundingly simplistic.
On the very day that Bush launched the Saddam takeout attempt, Republican members of Congress quietly indicated that work would progress without interruption on the administration's $1. 3 trillion tax-cut. In short, the Republican ideology that is so avidly espoused by the Bush team--lessen the tax burden of the rich and starve government down to size--is cruising along through totally untroubled waters.
To any reasonably detached economic thinker, proposing or carrying out tax cuts at this time are signs of incipient insanity. Democratic leadership, however, seems awestruck by the country's warlike posture as well as the actual onset of war, and it appears unable to engage the simple thought that the Bush tax cut plan must be met head on.
Meanwhile, our armed forces, especially ground forces, struggle with an ironic twist on making war on Iraq. The Bush team was prepared and actually offered to pay billions of dollars for support on UN approval of the war, while the families of a sizeable number of American ground troops whose lives are on the line are expected to live on food stamps. Even with pay increases that have been approved by Bush, the lowest ranking soldiers are paid at rates comparable to those of workers in minimum wage jobs. The willingness of those young men and women to serve our country and to face the severe risks of war in Iraq has not moved the administration or members of Congress out of the fantasy world of small government and low taxes long enough to correct this pay gap.
The Bush response to questions about the costs of war on Iraq and its aftermath is to tap dance on some days and side step on others. Such dancing around could be based on any of several premises. One is that the war will be over quickly and the cost will not be high. Of course, on the day after, costs move immediately to cleanup, recovery and promised nation building. Those will not be small, and the $900 million figure for a war recovery program is hardly realistic, even granting that is a nice piece of business for corporate friends of the Bush team.
A second premise is that others will pick up the tab. It is notable that few of the 30 or so members of the "coalition of the willing" have forces in the endeavor, and it would be even more notable if many of them put any money into the war kitty or the reconstruction. Most members of that group are not financially positioned to do a great deal. In fact they, themselves, are in need of assistance that they may be expecting for joining the coalition.
A third basis for Bush not facing costs is that they might well be covered by sales of Iraqi oil, to be sure by American companies. Various experts take opposing views. Much of the oil revenue will have to be devoted to > feeding and caring for the Iraqi people. After years of neglect, to bring the Iraqi fields up to higher levels of output is expected to take years. In any event, counting on oil revenues to pay the American war costs would be a gross travesty against the Iraqi people. If American companies do gain a handle on Iraqi oil production and export, do not count on their profits going toward Iraqi reconstruction.
The most obvious reason for not talking about costs is that they would place the Bush tax cut program in a ridiculous light. Many estimates, even including a Russian one, place the costs of the war itself at between $80-100 billion. That does not include recovery or occupation costs. With the deficit already at an all time high, and borrowing already occurring rapidly under a new debt ceiling, finding room for tax cuts will take a lot more than devotion to ideology. But paying for this war is only the tip of another iceberg. It does not count the costs of maintaining the American presence around the globe to assert the superpower role of counter-terrorism military policeman that is being acted out in the War on Terrorism. Whichever way he turns, Bush faces harsh realities and a need for candor with the American public about how we will pay the costs of his policies. But to use one of his card playing metaphors, candor is not his long suit.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He will welcome your comments on



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