Don't conceal the costs of war

March 21, 2003|By Robert C. Byrd

FROM THE moment he flung down the gauntlet before the United Nations and demanded the unconditional disarmament of Iraq, President Bush has worked nonstop to justify, with a plethora of shifting goals, the option of using military force to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein.

On Monday, with his final ultimatum before exercising the military option, the president began the countdown to unleashing the dogs of war. In his speech, he recited again the litany of reasons as to why we should believe that Mr. Hussein is an imminent threat to the United States and why the United States must go to war now without the support or endorsement of the United Nations.

The president and his cadre of senior advisers have gone to painstaking lengths to build their case for war with Iraq. They have talked in great detail about Mr. Hussein's suspected inventory of deadly weapons. They have sketched an intricate web of Iraq's tenuous ties to international terrorism. They have offered their vision of a postwar Iraq that would usher in a new era of democracy and stability throughout the Middle East.

In fact, the administration has made a Herculean effort to convince the world of the strength of the case against Mr. Hussein and the inevitability of war. Standing in stark contrast to the barrage of information emanating from the White House to justify war is the administration's refusal to provide any information to the American people regarding the costs of a war against Iraq.

With bombs already having fallen on Baghdad, the president still has not informed the American people or the Congress about the potential costs of this war, both in terms of blood and treasure, or about the administration's postwar plans, including the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.

In his address to the nation Monday, the president gave only a passing nod to the costs of war, saying, "Americans understand the costs of conflict because we have paid them in the past. War has no certainty, except the certainty of sacrifice."

When it comes to the costs of war, the American people do not need platitudes. They need facts. How many casualties can we expect? How much will the war cost? How long will the United States remain in Iraq? It is not enough to gloss over the "certainty of sacrifice." The American people deserve to be prepared for what that sacrifice might entail.

Although I strongly disagree with the administration's new doctrine of pre-emption on which this war with Iraq is predicated, I stand foursquare behind the men and women of the United States military. As the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will support whatever appropriations are necessary to ensure the safety of our troops who have been sent into harm's way. But the president must be forthcoming on what those costs are expected to be. It is not sufficient merely to send Congress the bill and expect the American people to pay it.

The president must also inform the American people now about his long-term plans for the region once the fighting subsides. Again, in his speech to the nation, the president skated over the details. "The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight. But it can come over time," he said.

Advancing liberty and peace over time is a lofty goal, but the American people need to know exactly what the president means. If we are not careful, the advancement of "liberty and peace" can easily lead to mission creep and result in an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces and resources in the Middle East. While I fully support funding the needs of our troops in Iraq, I am not prepared to endorse a blank check to finance some vague, grandiose scheme to reshape the political landscape of the Middle East.

For better or worse, the president has elected to go to war. As we embark on the course that he has charted, the president must now prepare the nation for the sacrifices and heartaches that we are likely to experience in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Robert C. Byrd is the senior Democratic senator from West Virginia.

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