The president's FY06 budget, scheduled to be released in the coming days, will not include a dime for military operations in Iraq. Instead, those costs will be hidden from the American people in the form of an emergency supplemental request to Congress one month later – to take care of last year's bills – and another one twelve months later. While U.S. servicemen and women are stationed abroad fighting for freedom, the administration continues to cook the books and hide the truth from the American people.
There are more than 150,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in the Iraq theater, almost half of them from the Guard and Reserve. The cost of military operations next year is expected to exceed $80 billion, on top of the $150 billion already spent to date. At a time when U.S. will is being tested, frankness and common sense from the administration would be welcomed.
First, next year's budget package should include the FY06 costs for Iraq. We know how much the operation is costing us per month and what the military requirements will be. Instead of kicking those costs down the road, we should include them up front. Including the package as part of the FY06 request would send a clear signal that the United States is committed for the long haul.
Second, the FY05 supplemental should be sent up together with the FY06 budget. Having two successive packages arriving on the Hill one after the other muddies the waters and risks isolating Iraq from other national security priorities. If Iraq is going to consume three times the amount of the homeland security budget and five times the amount of foreign assistance spending, it should be presented to the American people within that broader context.
The administration's business as usual approach forces the military to operate hand to mouth, inevitably risking a future shortfall in funding for ongoing operations. Providing the funds up front would all but guarantee that there would be no interruption in the flow of critical resources for troops already in the field. Delaying paying the bills forces our troops to deal with unnecessary uncertainty in a time of war.
Last week, the National Intelligence Council confirmed that Iraq is now a breeding ground for future terrorists. It's time to stop playing games. The president should immediately rethink and realign his budget proposals to reflect the importance of the mission in Iraq. In announcing these steps, he should lay out long-overdue plans for dealing with the ongoing turmoil and the role of U.S. troops following the upcoming January elections.
Robert Boorstin is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress. Michael Pan is a senior analyst at the Center for American Progress and a former political adviser to the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.