Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2004 / 5 Tishrei, 5765

Robert Robb

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Consumer Reports

Kerry asks good question about security costs | Last week, John Kerry raised an important issue about the cost of the Iraq war. But given Kerry's convoluted position on Iraq, the issue probably won't achieve the salience it deserves.

The conventional — and safe — political position on the cost of security is: Whatever it takes.

But there is no such amount.

There can always be more guns and soldiers, more investigators and inspectors.

But there is no quantity of guns, soldiers, investigators and inspectors that will render our country's safety and security fail-proof.

The United States spends nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. Yet 9/11 happened.

So, while it is rarely openly discussed and debated, national security spending is subject to risk assessment and a cost/benefit analysis: Is the increment of security purchased worth the investment?

From the beginning, the Bush administration has played rope-a-dope regarding the cost of the Iraq war.

The administration refused to provide a cost estimate prior to the war. And it continues to refuse to submit budgets for ongoing operations.

Instead, it simply submits the bills to Congress as they come due, as supplemental appropriations which Congress really has no choice but to approve.

War costs are unquestionably more variable than, say, highway construction. But a range of costs can be estimated, and indeed, within the Pentagon, undoubtedly are. They just aren't shared so their prudence and underlying policy can be debated.

Congress has appropriated about $150 billion for the Iraq war so far. Estimates from a variety of sources put the cost of ongoing operations at $50 billion to $60 billion a year.

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So, with incurred but unsubmitted obligations, American taxpayers are already into the Iraq war for around $200 billion. With the commitment the Bush policy represents in Iraq, the total bill could easily reach half a trillion dollars.

Let's assume, prior to the Iraq war, that the nation had debated the question of where to invest an additional $200 billion to $500 billion in national security. Would anyone have said, let's spend it all deposing Saddam Hussein?

Yet that is what the country is doing.

Part of the mounting cost results from the geopolitical goals the Bush administration has pursued in Iraq.

There can be debate about the severity of the threat Saddam poised to the United States. But the Bush administration's mission wasn't simply to remove that threat.

Instead, it is trying to midwife a democratic government there, as a transforming force for the entire region.

As a result, American taxpayers are paying for the creation of better roads, schools, health care, electrical generation and even oil production than existed prior to the war.

The Iraq war is the signature event of Bush's first term. One of the central questions about his re-election should be whether the increment of security we have purchased as a result of that war is worth what has and will be invested.

Moreover, the continuation of the Bush commitment in Iraq should be a central issue in this year's election. How much more will this commitment cost, in money and in the lives of our troops? What are the odds of success, and what increment of additional security will that success provide?

In his speech last week in Cincinnati, Kerry tried to make an issue of the cost of the Iraq war.

He mentioned the $200 billion price tag more than a dozen times. He asserted that it has come at the expense of virtually everything else under the sun: after-school programs, health care, cops, education, job creation, job training, Social Security, energy independence, cargo inspections and fire stations.

But Kerry has now been around the block at least twice on Iraq and offers no fundamental critique or realistic alternative.

He says Bush misled the country prior to the Iraq war, but that he would have voted in favor of the use of force resolution even knowing what is known today.

So, Kerry doesn't take the position that what it cost to depose Saddam wasn't worth the increment of security thereby purchased.

Nor does he openly question the ongoing Bush commitment to establish a democratic government in Iraq as a transforming force in the region. In fact, he has criticized the administration for not doing enough, even for not spending enough, to bring that about.

Instead, Kerry implausibly asserts that with superior diplomacy, he could have either brought Saddam to heel without war, or gotten other countries to participate more in the war, with soldiers and money. Nor is there any reason, regardless of diplomatic skill, to believe that Germany, France, Russia or other Arab countries are now willing to lighten the American burden in Iraq.

There's an important debate to be had about the Iraq war, including its cost. But John Kerry isn't the candidate to make it.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


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08/30/04: Bush's key task: His reinvention as a true uniter
08/20/04: Bush's burdening the Middle Class
08/13/04: For prez to win, he must change his campaigning style
08/03/04: Missing in Beantown was a sense of the art of the possible
07/26/04: Kerry inflated agenda reveals he's failed to truly make the transition from legislator to presidential candidate
07/12/04: Edwards punctuates Kerry fantasies
07/06/04: Kerry ups the ante in bid for Latino vote
06/30/04: High Court gave administration limits
06/25/04: Parallel (political) universes
06/21/04: Al-Qaida-Iraq interaction strengthens case for war
06/02/04: Gas whiners don't believe in or trust markets
05/10/04: Border reforms fail on black-market issue
05/07/04: It wasn't Bush's recession nor Bush's recovery
04/28/04: Arizona to become test market on immigration as a political issue
04/23/04: Accusations that the Bush administration has been shredding civil liberties are hyperbolic
04/16/04: Learning the limits
04/14/04: Aug. 6 memo is not even a water pistol, much less a smoking gun
04/11/04: Once 9/11 Commission's political theater ends, we must debate real security issues
04/09/04: Fact checking Kerry's federal budget plans
04/08/04: Should the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq be delayed beyond the current deadline?
04/02/04: Kerry's tax epiphany makes some cents
03/31/04: What could have prevented 9/11
03/26/04: Knock off the high-stakes blame game
03/23/04: McCain a ‘straight talker’? Who is he kidding?
03/17/04: Bin Laden makes distinctions?
03/12/04: In the dangerous neighborhoods, cause for hope, if not yet optimism
03/01/04: Greenspan view scary, but Dems in denial

02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate

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