Bush asks for $46 billion more for wars

Request pushes overall spending on security to $670 billion for fiscal '08

October 23, 2007|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The price tag for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took an upward jolt yesterday as President Bush asked for an additional $46 billion, raising the cost to $16.3 billion per month for fiscal 2008.

The request, which would make the conflicts the most expensive since World War II, comes after several months of brightening news from Iraq, including a marked decline in violence and in U.S. battle casualties. But it underscores the administration's conviction that, even with some troop reductions next year, this will be a long fight.

The request raises overall national security spending to $670 billion for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The overall budget would fund an aircraft carrier and other ships, dozens of jet fighters and heavy armored trucks for Iraq. The new request would harden bases in Iraq and Afghanistan against attack, improve care for wounded troops and military families, and aid Iraqi refugees, among other war-related efforts.

Bush, speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House to veterans and their families, took note of the anti-war elements in Congress that, despite heavy public opposition to the war, have been unable to impose troop withdrawal deadlines or other restrictions on his conduct of the war.

"Every member of Congress who wants to see both success in Iraq and our troops begin to come home should strongly support this bill," Bush said. "Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C. America should do what it takes to support our troops and protect our people."

The war in Iraq alone is on track to surpass Vietnam's cost, according to an analysis by Steven M. Kosiak of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

The Vietnam War cost about $518 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Kosiak, while Iraq so far has cost about $450 billion, Afghanistan $127 billion and counterterrorism operations elsewhere about $32 billion, a total of about $610 billion since 2001.

"Ronald Reagan, in his wildest dreams, would find this simply staggering," said Gordon Adams, professor of international relations at American University and former White House defense budget director in the Clinton administration. "This is a strategic reach that is almost incomprehensible."

But in a letter sent to Congress yesterday, Bush insisted that the request is an emergency to fund "urgent and essential requirements" on the battlefield such as body armor and ammunition. He said the money is needed as well for unspecified "extraordinary" threats to U.S. diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada retorted that these priorities "are not those of the American people." He complained that the request is for "all borrowed money, none of it paid for," and he did not say whether he would bring the request up for consideration quickly, as Bush asked.

Other Democrats scorched Bush for demanding billions for Iraq just days after vetoing a measure to expand a children's health insurance program by $35 billion over five years.

"For the cost of less than 40 days in Iraq, we could provide health care coverage to 10 million children for an entire year," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement. "We must end this war."

As with previous budget requests, most of the funds would go directly to the battlefield, with $11 billion earmarked for heavy armored trucks, called mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, and $3.1 billion to devise and field additional protection against roadside bombs and snipers.

Increasingly, according to some commanders in Iraq, troops are confronting more sophisticated weapons, many of them supplied by Iran.

These include explosively formed penetrating bombs, which hurl slugs through the thickest armor, and sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, Army Col. Daniel J. Shanahan, commander of an aviation brigade in Iraq, told reporters last week.

Shanahan said his helicopter pilots are fired upon about 200 times a month. Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, he said, are "the biggest threat" and require sophisticated sensors, decoys, jammers and other expensive devices to defeat.

The new budget request also provides $14 billion to replace damaged Army equipment, $1 billion more to train Iraqi soldiers and police, and $1 billion to strengthen bases in Iraq.

The request would also provide funds for counter-narcotics operations in Central America, peacekeeping support in Darfur, and aid to Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It allocates $240 million to provide health and education services to Iraqis who have fled to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and to families displaced from their homes inside Iraq.

But in the iceberg beneath these costs are traditional heavy weapons in the overall $623 billion Pentagon budget, such as $3 billion for a new aircraft carrier, $3.6 billion for future Army combat vehicles, and $4.6 billion for the F-22 stealth fighter.

These programs, some analysts say, provide very little traction against the two main threats facing the United States: extremists inspired by al-Qaida and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

david.wood@baltsun.com

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