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Jewish World Review July 15, 2003 / 15 Tamuz, 5763

Roger Simon

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A war without sacrifice | On March 14, less than a week before the war began in Iraq, I gave a speech in Palo Alto, Calif., on what the war was going to cost the American people.

I found the subject fascinating considering what we had not been asked to do since the attack of Sept. 11.

We had not been asked to sacrifice. We had not been asked to go without. We had not been asked to give up our lifestyles, though clearly some were soon going to be giving up their lives in the war.

Far from the famous inaugural words of John F. Kennedy some 42 years ago — "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" — the current president had not asked any real sacrifice from the American people at all.

Rarely in American history, I believe, has a president asked so little of his people in times of so much peril.

When President Bush addressed Congress after Sept. 11, he said: "I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat."

All that Americans will have to summon up, the president said back then, is "patience with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security and ... your patience in what will be a long struggle."

The war in Iraq was clearly going to cost more than this, however.

How much, we are just now learning.

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Before the war began, a panel of experts put the cost of reconstructing Iraq at $20 billion per year and requiring the long-term deployment of 75,000 to 200,000 American troops to prevent "widespread instability and violence." Some thought we would be there for 10 years or more.

The panel that came up with these figures was made up of senior American officials from Republican and Democratic administrations. It was chaired by James Schlesinger, secretary of defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and Thomas Pickering, ambassador to the United Nations under George H.W. Bush. Also on the panel were Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the joint chiefs, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served in the Reagan administration.

This was not, in other words, some left-wing think tank. These were people seeking a hard-headed assessment of the true cost of the aftermath of an Iraq war.

The audience I spoke to in Palo Alto reacted with shock at these numbers. Surely we would not have to deploy so many troops for so long a time, one person said in the question and answer session that followed. After all, our vice president was predicting that most Iraqis would welcome our troops as liberators.

That was possible, I said, but if that rosy scenario did not work out, the cost was going to be severe. According to one panel member, James F. Dobbins, who served as special envoy to Afghanistan under our current president, "even the lowest suggested requirement of 75,000 troops" to stabilize Iraq would mean "that every infantryman in the U.S. Army" — not just every infantryman in the occupying force, but every infantryman in the entire U.S. Army — spend 6 months in Iraq out of every 18 to 24. If the higher number of 200,000 troops was needed to keep peace in Iraq, a figure endorsed by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the army chief of staff, then obviously the troops would have to spend more time and the cost of occupation would be considerably more than $20 billion per year.

Well, as we all know, the war was fought, and the United States achieved a stunning military victory. Since victory was declared by President Bush, however, some 32 American soldiers have been killed maintaining the peace in Iraq.

And the estimated monthly cost of the peace has almost doubled. It was estimated that it would cost the United States about $2.2 billion per month in post-combat operations. The actual current rate of expenditure is $3.9 billion, which is shocking when you consider the average monthly expenditure during the heavy combat phase of the war was $4.1 billion.

In other words, the peace is costing us almost as much as the war.

The total cost of the war and occupation so far has been about $50 billion and could reach $100 billion through next year, according to The Washington Post.

Now, back in those days when the U.S. economy was booming and we had huge surpluses, a $100 billion price tag, while not exactly chicken-feed, was not a crisis.

Today, however, with a federal budget deficit that is expected to exceed $400 billion for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 — the largest in U.S. history — the $50 billion cost of the war so far is no trifling matter. It is going to have a real impact.

"Fifty billion dollars to a $400 billion deficit — that's a significant addition that should have some bearing on tax cuts and other spending decisions," said Rep. John M. Spratt, D-S.C., who serves on the House Budget Committee and Armed Services Committee. Spratt said, "The war will likely lead to delays in news weapons purchases and some weapons development."

That's what it will cost the military. What it will cost U.S. taxpayers we will be finding out in the weeks and months ahead.

Maybe nobody asked us to make sacrifices for this war, but sacrifice we will.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate