The Common Good
November-December 2003

Whose Sacrifice?

by Jim Wallis | November-December 2003

The beneficiaries of wartime tax cuts and contract deals are nothing less than war profiteers.

Although President Bush and his top advisers have yet to admit it, continuing events in Iraq reveal fundamental miscalculations and multiple policy failures on the part of the administration. Those failures have left the White House looking out of control of the situation in post-war Iraq because—despite the post-war bravado of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and the president's "bring 'em on" rhetoric—they are losing their grip. The president just calls for more "sacrifice"—instead of acknowledging miscalculations on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the reception of the Iraqi people to their American "liberators," the unexpected level of resistance to American occupation, the cost and scope of reconstruction, the American unilateralism that has made needed international help so difficult to obtain, and the abysmal lack of a post-conflict plan (to name just a few).

But who will do the sacrificing? President Bush has asked for $87 billion dollars more to pay for the American occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, after an initial $79 billion last spring. News reports reveal the comparative costs and "sacrifices" of this enormous expenditure: The entire proposed fiscal year budget for the Department of Health and Human Services is $66 billion; for the Department of Education, $53 billion. The total amount for all 50 states to meet their projected budget shortfalls this year is $78 billion. Meanwhile, the federal deficit is now projected to rise above $500 billion in fiscal year 2004.

Clearly, the sacrifices for the war in Iraq will be borne by those in most need—who will bear the brunt of inevitable spending cuts to vital social programs—and by future generations who will ultimately pay for the record-setting deficits. David Firestone, writing in The New York Times, put it well: "When President Bush informed the nation...that remaining in Iraq next year will cost another $87 billion, many of those who will actually pay that bill were unable to watch. They had already been put to bed by their parents."

Even before the stunning announcement of the costs of the war in Iraq, the news for the poor had been getting worse and worse. According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the number of people in poverty increased by 1.3 million from 2001 to 2002, and is now 34.8 million people in 7 million families, including 12.2 million children. A National Low Income Housing Coalition study found no state where a low-income worker can reasonably afford a 1-to-2 bedroom apartment, and 40 states where such housing would require an income of more than twice the minimum wage. Despite this, next year's budget could reduce the number of the low-income families who receive housing vouchers by more than 100,000 from current figures.

An Army announcement the day after the president's September speech made clear who else is being forced to sacrifice. Thousands of members of the National Guard and Reserves, who had expected their one year call-up to end this fall, will have their duty extended for up to another year. The on-going occupation of Iraq is changing everything for many American families.

And then there are the continuing casualties, both killed and wounded. As of this writing, the U.S. death toll stands at 305 men and women—166 since George W. Bush landed on an aircraft carrier wearing a military flight suit to proclaim that the primary conflict was over and that "the United States and our allies have prevailed." Deadly attacks occur every day. British deaths stand at 50. And of course we don't hear much about Iraqi casualties.

TRUTH-TELLING ALSO was sacrificed in the president's 18-minute speech in September, where the words "terror," "terrorist," or "terrorism" were used 27 times. There was no mention of embarrassments such as the fact that no weapons of mass destruction—once the primary reason for the war—have been found. But there were several references to Sept. 11, linked in the president's words to the war in Iraq. The U.S. "victory" in Iraq has now become "rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization." The Bush administration continues its unsubstantiated insinuations of connections between Iraq and al Queda, without any proof from U.S. or any other intelligence sources. And the result is that a majority of the American people believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks of Sept. 11—despite the lack of evidence. Ironically, the American occupation of Iraq may result in a circular, self-fulfilling prophecy. By falsely claiming that Iraq harbored terrorists and then going to war, the U.S. has now created a new "breeding ground" and gathering point for all manner of militants in Iraq—united by a common American enemy.

Who will bear no sacrifices is also clear—the beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts and the recipients of the lucrative contracts for Iraqi reconstruction, which are going to carefully selected American corporations. Those who will not sacrifice, in other words, are the wealthy and powerful allies of the Bush administration—and its core constituency. It is not hyperbole to say that those beneficiaries of wartime tax cuts and contract deals should now be called war profiteers.

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