President Bush Sunday night finally said how much he expects the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost over the next year - $87 billion in military operations and reconstruction.
Now that we know how much money is involved, the next obvious question is where it will come from. Will it require raising taxes? Will recently approved tax cuts need to be rescinded? Will it require cuts in other areas of the budget or in future military spending?
We hope Sunday's speech marks the beginning of greater public communication from the administration about the details of war and how the sacrifices needed to win it will be made. The administration had dodged the issue of cost for months. Reports that American soldiers are continuing to be killed and the escalating terrorist attacks against civilians four months after the president declared that the combat phase of the operation was officially over have raised questions about our ability to bring about real change in Iraq.
Bush needs to persuade people to support the war effort now more than ever, particularly as job losses mount at home and signs of economic growth are slow to materialize. The federal deficit is nearly $500 billion and growing.
Last week, the administration rightly modified its strategy of taking sole responsibility for Iraq's reconstruction. Secretary of State Colin Powell is proposing a new resolution in the United Nations in an effort to garner the support of other nations in policing and rebuilding Iraq.
The $3.9 billion per month the United States is spending in post-war Iraq alone will be difficult to sustain over the long term and needs to be divided among other nations.
With the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks just a few days away, Bush's speech carried added significance. He did not mention Osama bin Laden, but he labeled Iraq the central front on terrorism. "The terrorists have a strategic goal," he said. "They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world."
Bush is right, and the United States has a duty to continue to fight terrorism. But that fight will require help from the world community and continued openness from the Bush administration.
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