Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana's senior senator, was in town not long ago. While he was here, Lugar visited Douglass Middle School by way of trying to convince President Bush not to eliminate the $253 million Comprehensive School Reform Grant program. Thanks to this program, Douglass has been able to pay teacher salaries and purchase instructional materials so that many of its students get the remedial reading help they need.
So much has been made of the so-called "handover" of power in Iraq at the end of June that it's easy for many Americans to get the impression that, as of June 31, the United States will be pulling out of that hellish scene and the nightmare of our occupation there will be done. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But in his 2005 budget, President Bush has cut this program completely. And this isn't the only item on the chopping block. Big cuts are planned for health care programs, the environment, housing and law enforcement - even veterans benefits are expected to take a hit.
Meanwhile, plans for spending our tax dollars in Iraq are moving ahead at a steady, if unheralded, pace. So much has been made of the so-called "handover" of power in Iraq at the end of June that it's easy for many Americans to get the impression that, as of June 31, the United States will be pulling out of that hellish scene and the nightmare of our occupation there will be done. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although it's barely been covered by our media, the U.S. Defense Department has been putting the pieces in place for a long-term presence in Iraq. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, engineers are in the midst of planning the construction of 14 "enduring bases" there. These encampments will house "the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years."
I happened to find this information below the fold on page 4 of the Tribune's March 23 issue. As far as I can tell from an Internet search, The Indianapolis Star hasn't reported this story at all.
"As the U.S. scales back its military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq provides an option for an administration eager to maintain a robust military presence in the Middle East and intent on a muscular approach to seeding democracy in the region," states Christine Spolar, the Tribune foreign correspondent who wrote this piece. She goes on to report that military planners expect U.S. troop strength to remain between 105,000 and 110,00 through 2006.
Spolar writes that the U.S. plans to set up shop on the sites of former Iraqi military bases in Baghdad, Mosul, Taji, Balad, Kirkuk and in areas near Nasiriyah, Tirkrit, Fallujah and between Irbil and Kirkuk. We also plan on renovating airfields in Baghdad and Mosul and rebuilding 70 miles of highway heading to the northern part of the country. "This is a blueprint for how we could operate in the Middle East," Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for the coalition in Iraq, is quoted as saying.
"Dollar figures have not been released," Spolar states. "The Defense Department plans to build the bases under its own contracts separate from the State Department and its Embassy in Baghdad."
According to military planners, Defense Department workers will direct most of the major contracts connected to the $18 billion allocated for Iraq reconstruction. "It was a significant win," a military planner is quoted. "In terms of controlling the money, Defense is in control."
It begins to look as though the same might be said for the entire U.S. budget. Although George Bush II can and should be hammered for saying one thing and doing another (remember how he belittled "nation building" during his debates with Al Gore?), his fellow conservatives have followed a consistent line since winning the White House with Reagan in 1980. They find a foreign threat, pour billions into Defense in order to fight it and then use the resulting deficits to kill domestic programs. Given the fact most Americans support domestic spending, this is a useful formula. It provides political cover to those who want to get rid of things that people actually want - like clean air, good schools and affordable housing - but that no one's been able to get rich providing.
In all the "He said/She said" brouhaha surrounding Richard Clarke's testimony before the Sept. 11 Commission, Clarke's most important point has been obscured. Going to war in Iraq was a choice, not a necessity. This was clear before the war began, even more in light of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. This choice is having real consequences here at home. Given the plans for what appears to be a costly and protracted military presence in Iraq, those consequences will continue to add up in the months and years to come. Is it worth it? Our future turns on how Americans - in hospital emergency rooms and firehouses and classrooms like those at Douglass Middle School - answer that question.