- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Jan. 11, the day after he announced that an additional 17,500 U.S. combat forces would “surge” into Baghdad, President Bush visited Fort Benning, Ga., home of one of the five brigade combat teams (BCTs) that will execute the plan. “What’s new about this plan is there will be enough troops to clear, build and hold,” the president told the soldiers. “The new strategy is not going to yield immediate results. It’s going to take a while,” Mr. Bush cautioned. “Yet over time, we can expect to see positive results.”

On the same day, the Department of Defense announced that the five brigades going into Baghdad would involve a single BCT deploying to Iraq each month from January through May. However, when the White House released its fiscal 2008 budget on Feb. 5, there was not a single dollar budgeted to support the surge after Sept. 30, 2007. Indeed, despite the president’s insistence that the new strategy — “clear, build and hold” — was “not going to yield immediate results,” his budget included no funds for the surge four months after the fifth BCT was to enter Baghdad.

For fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, the budget projected spending $142 billion on the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror (GWOT). That’s $21 billion less than the $163 billion GWOT budget for fiscal 2007. Specific to the Iraqi theater, compared to the $124 billion in GWOT funds budgeted for Operation Iraqi Freedom in fiscal 2007, only $110 billion has been budgeted for 2008. Once again, the White House appears to have low-balled the estimated cost of its war strategy. Compounding the fiscal low-balling for 2008, the White House estimated its GWOT would cost a paltry $50 billion in fiscal 2009, and budgeted zero GWOT funds for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

On Feb. 6, Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained to an incredulous Senate Armed Services Committee why no surge funds were budgeted effective Oct. 1. “[T]hose of us involved in the decision-making process anticipated that this reinforcement would take months, not 18 months to two years.” But that doesn’t square with what the president told the soldiers at Fort Benning. Nor does it conform with any reasonable understanding of “clear, build and hold.” Moreover, when asked about fiscal 2009 funding for the GWOT, which includes both Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Gates, referring to the White House Office of Management and Budget, replied, “I think OMB, Mr. Chairman, has put $50 billion in the budget for FY ‘09.” At the same hearing Tina Jonas, the comptroller for the Department of Defense, confirmed that it “was OMB’s decision to do that.” Moments later, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his projections call for “continuing to spend about $7 billion a month on the war” in Iraq. As recently as the Pentagon briefing last Wednesday, Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace were still offering very fuzzy spending projections that remained utterly inconsistent with the president’s “clear, build and hold” strategy.

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