Dubya Wants Another $80 Billion to Fight His Wars

The Bush administration is seeking another $80 billion in funding for military operations this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing the total for both conflicts to almost $300 billion so far.

Administration and congressional officials said the new request, expected to be announced on Tuesday, would come on top of the $25 billion in emergency spending already approved for this fiscal year.

That means funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will total nearly $105 billion in fiscal 2005 alone — a record that shatters initial estimates of the cost.

In addition to money for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and for new Army equipment, up to $650 million is expected to be earmarked for humanitarian, reconstruction and military operations in Asian nations devastated by last month’s tsunami, congressional aides said. The administration is considering debt relief for Indonesia, the hardest-hit country, they said.

The funding request comes as the U.S. Army said it is now planning to keep at least 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years to train and fight alongside Iraqi forces against insurgents. The Army total is part of a force of 150,000 American soldiers, Marines and other troops now in Iraq.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it was Congress’ “highest responsibility” to provide the troops the support they need. But she said lawmakers “owe it to them to critically examine President Bush’s request.”

John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said the Pentagon might need even more money this year “because we just don’t know the rate at which the insurgency will grow or subside, and we don’t know the rate at which the Iraqi security forces can be stood up.”

The funding request is expected to be formally submitted to Congress after President Bush sends up his fiscal 2006 budget on Feb. 7.

The White House is bracing for a backlash from Democrats and some Republicans. At nearly $105 billion, total funding for military operations in 2005 would be more than 13 times larger than Bush’s budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to money for military operations, at least $780 million would go to combat the drug trade in Afghanistan.

The administration is also considering including $1 billion to $2 billion to construct a new U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad, and up to $200 million in aid for the Palestinians to shore up newly-elected President Mahmoud Abbas.

Aid for Ukraine may also be included to bolster new President Viktor Yushchenko, congressional aides said.

Bush has so far pledged $350 million in tsunami aid. The new package is expected to include up to $650 million, including $250 million to $350 million for reconstruction, and up to $300 million to replenish funds spent by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Pentagon.

Administration and congressional officials had initially expected this year’s supplemental spending to total closer to $50 billion. But cost estimates skyrocketed to as much as $100 billion as the Iraq insurgency intensified.

Critics have long accused Bush and his advisers of understating the costs. Before the invasion, then-budget director Mitch Daniels predicted Iraq would be “an affordable endeavor,” and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz assured Congress: “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”

Not including the new funding request, Congress has so far approved $120 billion for Iraq and another $60 billion for Afghanistan. Last year it also approved a $25 billion contingency fund for the Pentagon.

Yet only a fraction of the $18.4 billion set aside for rebuilding Iraq has been spent. The White House blames the insurgency for the slow pace of reconstruction.