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Bush's Short Trip into Purgatory

by Matthias Streitz Friday, Sep. 19, 2003 at 2:10 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

"The government did miserable work in planning for the time after Saddam Hussein. The government treated Congress like a nuisance, Senator Chuck Hagel from arch-conservative Nebraska declared.. The 6 billion for the anti-terror crusade is a record."

Bush’s Short Trip into Purgatory

George W. Bush’s new billion estimate for military operations and Iraqi reconstruction shocks his republican friends. They suspect the astronomical number is still whitewashed. Bush-vassals feel the anger of Congress.

By Matthias Streitz, New York

[This article originally published in: Spiegel online, September 10, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,264981,00.html.]

Washington. A joke about the costs of the Iraq war circulates in America. The satirist Andy Borowitz published a fabricated news report on his website: “Bush: I meant 87 myriads” was the headline.

“I made a mess of it”, Borowitz has the president say. Bush ignored a “typing error” in his manuscript and mistakenly only asked Congress for billion for the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a “ridiculous pittance”, Bush says according to Borowitz. “My people tell me: we need a billion dollars for every terrorist.”

“Friendly fire” in the Senate

The laughter is mostly gone in the US Congress, even among representatives of Bush’s own party. This was clear on Thursday when deputy secretary of the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, the strategist of the hawks, testified before the Armed Services committee of the Senate. He promptly came under fire from both parties.

“The administration has obviously underestimated the challenges facing us”, scolded John McCain, a republican and well-known influential unconventional thinker. How long should the US remain in Iraq, for years? Wolfowitz had no answer: “I can’t imagine it will take years.” McCain growled back: “This kind of precision isn’t enough.”

Growing Unrest in Nebraska

The leader of the Bush party in the Senate refused to rebuke McCain for his appearance. Bill Frist praised him in the press: he was thoroughly right to question. Another critic, Chuck Hagel, came on strong on CBS television: The government did “miserable work” in planning for the time after Saddam Hussein. The administration treated Congress “like a nuisance”, the Senator from archconservative Nebraska decried.

A few critical voices do not produce a revolt. Thus the president maneuvered his package through both chambers without having to cut a single billion. However that was more a sign of helplessness than a demonstration of trust. “Congress had no choice but to agree”, said democrat Robert Byrd. “We agreed despite the criticism of the international community toward this country. Now we pay the price for our arrogance.” The administration will present its financing bills in seven to ten days. Everything should go very quickly after that. The budgetary year begins October 1.

Limbo with Air-Conditioning

Previously the president – at least for the sake of symbolism – had to pass through a little fire as the New York Times summarized the mood. Still this was the most sweeping express financing rushed through the legislature since Pearl Harbor. Two days after Bush’s speech, the request for billions was still the top theme in the evening news reports. They analyzed Wolfowitz’ appearance in detail. “ Billion” was a front-page story with NBC. Simple and concise, the number speaks for itself.

But is it realistic? Even in parts of Bush’s Grand Old Party”, there is a growing fear that the flood of red numbers has not been weathered. The president’s prognosis contains several threatening unknowns. .3 billion are earmarked for rebuilding Iraq, for the new police, the power supply network, streets, oil facilities and the rest. The president’s camp itself admits that a realistic sum would be between billion and billion.

Magical Oil Billions Made in Washington

The difference, the government hopes, will come from two other sources. Iraq itself could provide twelve billion dollars when its crude oil streams on the world market in large quantities. However Washington has already wrongly estimated these revenues. In March, Wolfowitz even promised Congress that the reconstruction would finance itself – thanks to the magical oil billions.

The government insists that a Tsunami of helpfulness and cooperation will suddenly rumble in from previously skeptical foreign countries. The US enters the Iraq donor conference beginning at the end of October in Madrid with enormous expectations. According to the prognosis, Europe, Japan and others must contribute -43 billion. Otherwise Bush’s budget plan capsizes. Some regard these assumptions as madly optimistic. The “LA Times” quotes a skeptical political scientist: “They should be glad to get one billion.”

The First World War and other Trifles

The democrats, a minority in Congress, are searching for a strategy to exploit Bush’s little financial accident. This isn’t simple. If they refuse money for the army, they could quickly appear as wicked betrayers of the troops. The opposition in the House of Representatives has begun a first chess maneuver. A legal draft should force the government to spend as much for schools and clinics in the US as for rebuilding Iraq. This bill doesn’t have a chance of becoming law. What counts is the symbolism.

Perhaps the democrats could make capital out of the numbers calculated by William Nordhaus, economist from Yale University. He says: the 6 billion that Bush spends or demands for his anti-terror crusade is an historical record. Adjusted for inflation, the war of independence, the war of 1812, the Mexican war, the Spanish-American war and Gulf war I combined were cheaper…

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