:::: MENU ::::

The Sultan Center for World Affairs

  • Diplomacy

  • Friendship

  • Cooperation

Thursday, March 16, 2006

  • 5:59 AM
One day after the Pentagon declared an end to major combat in Iraq and began withdrawing forces from the region, President Bush moved to change the subject.

With some Air Force units already back and several Navy ships steaming home, Bush held a rally in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday to redirect public attention to the U.S. economy, particularly his plan for a major new tax cut.

The desire of both Bush and the nation to move on is natural. After barely four weeks of fighting, the military campaign has been a resounding triumph. U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, routed enemy forces except for scattered holdouts and limited U.S. casualties to 121 dead, 495 wounded and four missing.

Yet the military's victory marks only the first phase of a much longer and more challenging drive to rebuild Iraq into a prosperous democracy. Making good on that commitment requires the close attention of the Bush administration and support from the public, which will bear the costs.

The job ahead also highlights the inadvisability of the very tax-cut plan Bush is now aggressively pushing in the face of the war's crushing financial burden. The military campaign alone is expected to approach $80 billion. Add to that at least $20 billion a year for reconstruction and the long-term deployment of U.S. troops and civilian personnel.

An early sign of the daunting task surfaced Tuesday at a U.S.-led forum of Iraqis to shape the country's postwar government. The meeting was boycotted by representatives of the long-suppressed Shiite majority. Nearby, thousands protested the notion of a U.S.-run occupation.

In spite of the problems to come, Bush continues to sell the public on the idea that the U.S. can afford the war, Iraq's rebuilding and tax cuts. "We need tax relief totaling at least $550 billion to make sure our economy grows," he said Tuesday. Today Bush visits a St. Louis aircraft plant while 25 Cabinet officers and deputies fan the country to promote his plan.

Understandably, Bush is mindful that while his father also won a war, he lost re-election because of a struggling economy. But big tax cuts are the wrong solution at a time when the government is running record deficits and faces steep costs for the Iraq conflict.

And claims that the U.S. can afford it all — tax cuts, a war and mounting deficits — only encourage the kind of unrealistic thinking that caused the American public to tire of long-term commitments in the past. During the 1970s, for example, support for foreign aid and overseas troop deployments ebbed as domestic problems mounted.

The disconnect between the cost of the U.S. commitment in Iraq and tax cuts isn't lost on the public. According to an Associated Press poll released Monday, 61% said additional tax cuts should be put off for now because of the deficit and war costs.

Bush reminded the nation Tuesday that much work remains in Iraq. "We have waged this war with determination ... and we will see it through until the job is done," he said.

Doing so requires an honest accounting of how that job will be funded and what sacrifices it asks of the American public. At stake is not only Iraq's future, but also the credibility of the U.S. to keep its promises.
A call-to-action text Contact us