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Bush to Seek $87 Billion for Effort in Iraq

In a televised address, the president also says he'll ask for more U.N. assistance as he braces the public for a longer, costlier occupation.

September 08, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — 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."

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