Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a hearing that the “burn rate” for American money to fund the military presence in Iraq was now $3.9 billion a month—almost $1 billion a week. “This is tough stuff,” said a cranky Rumsfeld, lecturing the Senate committee. “This is hard work. This takes time. We need to have some patience.”
But that billion a week is just the beginning.
It doesn’t include the cost of running Iraq’s government and rebuilding it, which could be an additional billion a month, according to rough U.N. estimates made before the war. Then there’s the matter of Iraq’s enormous debts. Last week the major creditor countries in the so-called Paris Club agreed to restructure about $21 billion worth, but estimates of the total external debt, including war reparations to Kuwait, run well over $100 billion. How will the reconstruction be funded? For the administration it’s an especially painful question, in part because it comes at a time when the U.S. economy is in the doldrums, when budget deficits are ballooning and when tax cuts are the preferred method of getting business churning again. No wonder “Rumsfeld lost his cool,” said a former senior official from the first Bush administration. “He was befuddled. I think he’s running out of confidence and wriggle room.”
The Indiana Republican Senator Luger is worried the American people were being blindsided, too, by the true costs in blood and treasure of a war that has yet to end. “This idea that we will be in [Iraq] ‘just as long as we need to and not a day more’,” he said, paraphrasing the administration line, “is rubbish! We’re going to be there a long time.” Lugar said he kept demanding answers about the cost to American taxpayers and was not quite getting them. “Where does the money come from?” he asked. “How is it to be disbursed, and by whom?”
Why did the administration rush into this war so ill prepared for what would come after? Supposedly there was a clear and present danger from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, but even if it was present, clearly it wasn’t imminent. No such weapons were used and none have been found. While administration hawks were pushing hard for war, however, they airily dismissed questions about the long-term cost of occupying post-Saddam Iraq. Some suggested there might not be a long term. “Most of the Iraqi bureaucracy, and most of the Iraqi infrastructure, will be left intact,” a State Department official assured a NEWSWEEK reporter just before the war. An occupation might not have to last more than “30 to 60 days.”
As for financing the occupation, “We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate a week after the invasion started in March. Now such pretenses have to be dropped. “It’s not going to be self-financing,” says L. Paul Bremer III, the Coalition administrator for Iraq. “Although Iraq is potentially a rich country, it’s not very rich now.”Posted by tstubbs at July 15, 2003 11:04 AM | Trackback