As the Bush Administration continues to spend billions of dollars on the war in Iraq, it tells Americans , "Don't worry, be happy."
By Gail Vida Hamburg
In 1988, when President Bush, the elder, was on the campaign trail during his first bid for the White House, reporters following him wrote that he was besotted with a chart-topping hit of that time. Its monotonous beat and dreadful lyrics made it an aural assault weapon, yet by all accounts it resonated deeply with the then vice-president.
Don't worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy.
Cause when you worry your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
The song celebrates a philosophy of blissful idiocy, denial bordering on the pathological, self-entitlement and individual recklessness, lack of caring for the consequences of one’s actions on others, and a belief in maintaining appearances for the sake of communal equanimity.
I heard the song the other day (after successfully dodging it all these years), and found myself thinking of the former President, the current President, and the Iraq War. I was still reeling from line items in the House Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2006: $409 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, $363.7 billion assigned for base funding,, and $45.3 billion in emergency funding to cover “contingency operations costs in the global war on terror” for six months starting October ‘05. The current monthly cost to American taxpayers for war and reconstruction costs is $4.8 billion for Iraq, $700 million for Afghanistan. Alarming numbers, but don’t worry, the President has a solution—more resolve from the American people.
Just a month earlier, Congress had sanctioned $82 billion for combat and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total cost then to a staggering $221.3 billion: $185.7 billion for war, and $35.6 billion for Army equipment costs and reconstruction funding in Iraq. High-ranking military officials had warned Congress then of two more supplemental emergency funding requests they planned to make before the fiscal year ended in October.
I don’t have an MBA from Harvard like the President, but isn’t spending $221,300,000,000 at a time of unprecedented budget and trade deficits voodoo economics? And for that much capital, shouldn’t we expect a return on investment more tangible than unrealized freedom? Perhaps the capture of Osama bin Laden?
According to one Congressional budget estimate, the total cost of the Iraq War is expected to reach half a trillion dollars by 2010. But this is simply not enough, according to Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, who visited Washington in May. Defending himself from charges that he wasn’t doing enough to eradicate poppy growing in his country, Karzai said: “We have done our job. The Afghan people have done their job. Now the international community must come and provide alternative livelihood to the Afghan people, which they have not done so far.” Since the coalition of the willing fled to the hills, the job of rehabilitating Afghan poppy growers, and subsidizing them while they learn the intricacies of coffee cultivation and rug making falls on, guess who?
I am trying mightily to find joy in the President’s speech to the International Republican Institute, which gives birth to a new idea in American politics -- representation without taxation. “Provincial Reconstruction Teams are helping the Afghan government to fix schools, dig wells, build roads, repair hospitals, and build confidence in the ability of Afghanistan’s elected leaders to deliver real change in people's lives.”
Fix schools? Teachers in overcrowded Chicago public schools, many of them forced to wheel supermarket carts filled with their supplies from class to class due to the shortage of rooms, will be delighted to hear that no child in Afghanistan, at least, is left behind.
Nearly every state here at home, including mine, is working furiously to stem the bleeding red ink on its ledgers with cuts to education, mass transit, garbage collection, and dozens of other services. They are boosting revenues by increasing property and “sin” taxes, introducing video gaming and gambling, and studying ever-new tax-revenue streams including taxation for email and cell-phone usage. But don’t worry, be happy, war supporters tell us.
Honest answers about the monetary cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been elusive from the administration, since long before the war. In 2003, Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, told reporters: “It could be the price of a silver bullet,” (referring to a convenient assassination of Saddam Hussein) and “Iraq would be able to shoulder much of the burden of reconstruction because of its oil wealth.” At a Congressional appropriations committee hearing in March 2003, days before the war, Paul Wolfowitz (then Deputy Defense Secretary), painted a rosy picture of starting a war with no money down. “There is a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money,” he said. “We are talking about a country that can finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.” For his accurate financial analysis and forecasting, give or take $300 billion, Mr. Wolfowitz has been dispatched to head the World Bank.
But to doubt or question President Bush’s dream -- of democracy and freedom blooming like cactus flowers across the sands of the Middle East -- is to invite derision from war supporters. Don’t worry be happy, is the song they wish us to sing. Americans, who are more practical and realistic -- taxpayers all -- have every right to ask the President what he meant when he said in his second Inaugural address, “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon.” How much money should Americans spend in Iraq and Afghanistan before we achieve honor? $400 billion? $900 billion? $1 trillion? How many soldiers dying in Iraq would be honorable? 5,000? 10,000? 58,000 as in Vietnam?
The latest raid on the national treasury is not the last. The bridge fund of $45.3 billion will take us through February. And then what? And how much more for President Bush’s ambition to succeed where God has failed -- to end evil and tyranny in the world? Come to think of it, Don’t worry, be happy is the perfect anthem -- to render us unconscious while our government remakes the world. All they need is your checkbook and our kids.