President Bush stunned the nation Sunday night with his request for an additional $87 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In a hastily-scheduled television speech, Bush sought to defend the Iraq war and occupation as polls show his support declining.

“Is he going to rescind his tax cuts for the richest Americans?” asked Iowa AFL-CIO President Mark Smith. “If we have money to spend on Iraq, we should have money to spend on America’s working families,” Smith told the World. With millions unemployed or under-employed and millions more who have given up looking for work, there is “tremendous personal suffering among working families,” Smith said. “We need a massive infusion of money into this economy to put people back to work.”

“This may not be Vietnam, but boy, it sure smells like it,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Senate the next day. “And every time I see these bills coming down for the money, it’s costing like Vietnam, too.”

Bush’s budget-busting Sept. 7 request follows the $79 billion he got approval for this spring. The $166 billion total is on top of the record $480 federal deficit projected for the coming year.

The $87 billion is roughly equivalent to two years of unemployment benefits, 87 times what the federal government spends on after-school programs and more than 10 times the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Center for American Progress. It is nearly triple what Bush requested for kindergarten through 12th grade education in 2004.

There isn’t enough money to fund schools, Harkin said, “yet we’re going to ask the American taxpayers to keep coughing up money for this quagmire that we’re in now in Iraq.”

On Sept. 9, families of troops serving or killed in Iraq held a Capitol Hill congressional briefing organized by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), where they urged Congress to reject the $87 billion request and end U.S. military involvement in Iraq. The group included the father of the first Marine killed

in Iraq and the 13-year-old daughter of a soldier now serving there.

“We told members of Congress to take a moment to go out to the Vietnam Memorial,” Nancy Lessin, a co-founder of Military Families Speak Out whose son returned from Iraq in May, told the World. “This is the opportunity to do what wasn’t done with Vietnam – to stop the wrong thing from happening,” Lessin said.

The Pentagon is spending $3.9 billion a month in Iraq and just under $1 billion a month in Afghanistan – a total of nearly $5 billion per month, a yearly cost of almost $60 billion. That does not include money for rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure.

During the eight years of the Vietnam War, the U.S. spent an average of $5.15 billion per month, or $61.8 billion per year, in today’s dollars.

Bush’s $87 billion is the largest emergency spending request since the start of World War II, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said. The $75 billion slated for Iraq is almost exactly equal to the $78 billion in expected state budget deficits for the 2004 fiscal year, which starts in October – deficits which are triggering slashes in education, health care and emergency “first responders.”

Senate Republicans acknowledged concerns about pressing domestic needs. “The primary Democratic argument will be, ‘If you’re spending that much to defend Baghdad, how about defending Baltimore while you’re at it?’” a Republican staffer said. “What are we supposed to say back?”

Nearly 75 House Democrats are co-sponsoring a bill by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) that would require the administration to spend the same amount on rebuilding schools and hospitals in the U.S. as it spends in Iraq.

Citing the administration’s “many, many missteps” in Iraq, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said Congress should deny any funding request for Iraq until an agreement with the United Nations has been concluded on security and reconstruction of Iraq, adding, “We cannot go it alone. We cannot demand total control.”

“I did not think the President was right to go into Iraq,” McDermott said in a Sept. 8 statement. “The errors of President Bush and those around him must be corrected, not funded.”

Faced with dropping poll numbers and conflict within his administration over its handling of the war and occupation, Bush asked for help from the United Nations. His appeal drew what a Scottish newspaper termed “an embarrassingly muted response across the globe.” Most countries continue to say they will not provide troops or funds unless the U.S. hands over to the UN significant authority for the political and economic rebuilding of Iraq.

The day after Bush’s speech, the Army announced it has ordered 8,000 National Guard and Army reserve forces now in Iraq to extend their stays there to a year, months longer than many troops had expected.

The author can be reached at


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.