Bush to Seek $87 Billion for Effort in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Describing Iraq as the “central front” in the war on terror, President Bush tried to assure the American people Sunday night that the United States will succeed in bringing democracy and prosperity to that country -- but it will cost substantially more than the administration has previously acknowledged.

In a nationally televised address, his first since he declared an end to major combat operations May 1, Bush spoke with new candor about two themes: the cost of the operation and the fact that the United States cannot do the job alone. And he insisted that violence against American troops will not weaken U.S. resolve.

“We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our own nation more secure,” Bush said from the White House Cabinet Room.


Bush put a specific new price tag -- $87 billion -- on operations in Iraq and, secondarily, Afghanistan: $66 billion for military operations and $21 billion for reconstruction in the next year. That is in addition to a supplemental budget appropriation of $79 billion approved by Congress in April. His new request will bring the cost of fighting the war and winning the peace to about $166 billion, significantly more than had been expected.

Congress is expected to approve the additional money, which would push the federal deficit to more than half a trillion dollars.

Bush used his speech to formalize an about-face in his Iraq policy: After months of insisting the United States did not need the help of the United Nations, he has now decided to seek a new U.N. resolution authorizing the creation of a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. He also insisted that the push to get allies to contribute more troops is not a sign that the number of U.S. troops on the ground may be insufficient to provide security throughout the country.

“The current number of American troops -- nearly 130,000 -- is appropriate to their mission,” Bush said. British and Polish troops are commanding two “multinational divisions” of 20,000 soldiers, he noted, and “in order to share the burden more broadly, our commanders have requested a third multinational division.”

Bush gave no indication when the U.S. military role would be decreased. He pointedly compared Iraq to U.S. efforts after World War II, which lasted years.

A new U.N. resolution is desirable, he said, because “some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq.”


But allies, who had opposed the invasion, last week greeted the resolution coolly, saying they wanted the U.N. to have more authority and the U.S. less.

Bush urged hesitating allies to let bygones be bygones.

“I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power,” the president said. “Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world.”

Speaking days before the second anniversary of Sept. 11, he described Iraq as the “central front” in an ongoing “war on terror” that began with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power,” said Bush, who gave no evidence of Iraq’s central role.

Bush did not mention two areas that are sore points for his administration: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, one of the reasons he and aides cited for the invasion that toppled Hussein. Nor did he mention the crumbling peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Instead, Bush picked up on a theme introduced by top aides in recent weeks: that rebuilding Iraq is a commitment as important and extensive as the U.S. effort that rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II.


“We committed years and resources to [post-WWII reconstruction],” he said. “And that effort has been repaid many times over in three generations of friendship and peace. America today accepts the challenge of helping the Iraqi people in the same spirit -- for their sake, and our own.”

Throughout the speech, Bush’s demeanor was composed and even, with few emotional highs or lows, apparently aimed at expressing confidence and calm.

James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, described the delivery as “flat.” He also said that although the president may have wanted to appear confident, his refusal to acknowledge a change in policy may be a sign of the opposite.

“It reminds me of [President Lyndon B. Johnson] and other presidents who needed to seem strong, and they perceive admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness,” Thurber said. “They use a lot of words to cover up the fact that they are changing policy.”

Thurber also described Bush’s argument about not needing more troops as “logically inconsistent.”

“If we’re asking allies to supply troops, it means we really don’t have enough troops,” he said.


Republican leaders praised Bush’s speech as reaffirming U.S. resolve.

“If we are to protect American lives, retreat from Iraq is not an option,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). “Winning the peace in Iraq is essential to winning the war on terror.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said Bush made a “compelling case” to the American people and the world “to see the war on terrorism through to the end.”

Democrats inside and outside Congress, however, described Bush’s presentation as unconvincing.

The situation in Iraq “is beginning to remind me of what happened with Lyndon Johnson and Dick Nixon during the Vietnam War,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. “The government began to feed misinformation to the American people to justify an enormous commitment of American troops, which turned out to be a major policy mistake.”

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), another contender for the nomination, said Bush’s appeal to allies is “long overdue.”

“From the start, I’ve told this president that we could win the war alone, but we won’t be able to win the peace alone,” Gephardt said. “Now that the president has recognized that he has been going down the wrong path, this administration must begin the process of fully engaging our allies and sharing the burden of building a stable democracy in Iraq.”


The speech comes at a critical moment in Bush’s presidency, with his ratings sinking slowly and signs of anxiety growing among the public.

Recent polls suggest the violence and uncertainty of success in Iraq is taking a toll on the president’s standing with voters. A poll released Saturday by Zogby International showed Bush’s positive performance rating in steady decline: 54% of likely voters rated Bush’s job performance as fair or poor, and only 45% rated it as good or excellent.

A poll released Friday by Democracy Corps, a Democratic-aligned research group, indicated that Bush’s overall approval rating -- 55% -- is hovering just 1 point above its lowest, pre-Sept. 11 level. The poll also found that a majority of respondents now believe the country is headed in the “wrong direction,” and 50% feel the president lacks a plan to win the peace in Iraq. The same number said they did not believe Bush had been “honest about the dangers and threats Iraq posed before the war.”

For much of the summer, congressional leaders -- including key Republicans -- have called for the president to do a better job explaining his policies and what they will mean for the U.S. in terms of a military and financial commitment.

The $87 billion Bush said he would ask Congress to provide for the next installment of war and reconstruction costs is substantially more than the $65 billion members of Congress had been told to expect last week. Earlier reports had indicated that the administration would ask for about $55 billion in military costs and $10 billion for reconstruction.

With the higher price tag, one senior House GOP aide said, “You are going to see some sticker shock among conservative members.”


But in the end, this aide predicted that Congress would swallow its qualms and approve whatever Bush requested.

“You go to war, you pay the bills,” this aide said.

But other Democratic presidential candidates said the cost of the war was too high and the administration’s exit strategy too vague.

“Tonight, the president offered glowing rhetoric but few specifics on how we will erase the mismanagement of this administration in Iraq,” said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass). “The president must now do what he should have done before the war began and go to the United Nations and our allies to build a true international coalition to share the burden of securing and rebuilding Iraq despite the administration’s abysmal record of doing just that.”

Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.) said the $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan is more than the federal government will spend on education this year, and double what it will spend on roads and public transit.

“The president is clearly making a judgment that it is more important for us to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to deal with the very serious problems that we have in the United States,” he said.

Immediately after Bush’s speech, another Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, suggested that America’s wealthiest citizens be asked to postpone the tax cut they are scheduled to receive in order to pay for the Iraq occupation.


Congress has been demanding for some time that the president announce a figure for the cost of the Iraq operation.

Of the $87 billion request, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said, “It’s a high price tag, but I think it’s a realistic price tag.” He said Congress would take a “hard look” at the request.


Times staff writers Janet Hook and Richard Simon contributed to this report.