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Senate Democrats Decry Bush Iraq Planning

Senate Democrats Decry Bush Iraq Planning

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic senators maintained Tuesday that President Bush's request for an additional $87 billion, mostly for Iraq, buttresses contentions the administration seriously miscalculated the cost of going to war there.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, noted that the administration had rejected estimates before the war that an Iraq conflict could cost $100 billion to $200 billion. The new $87 billion request is in addition to the $79 billion that Congress approved last spring.

Addressing Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Levin said "you told Congress in March that `we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.' Talk about rosy scenarios," Levin said.

He said the $87 billion request "is a bitter pill for the American people to swallow."

Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., defended the administration's handling of the war.

"Has everything gone as envisioned? We all know that's not correct. But when in history has an operation of this magnitude gone exactly as planned?" he said.

Wolfowitz and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other officials appeared before the committee two days after Bush announced he would seek the $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush said the money is needed to stop terrorists before they can strike again in the United States.

Wolfowitz told senators the money was needed to train international forces to fight along U.S. troops and to give U.S. troops the money they need to win the war.

"We don't start a job that we can't finish and when we do start a job, we give it our best; that's the American way," he said.

He said great progress has already been made in the fight against terrorism.

Reading from what he said was a CIA summary, Wolfowitz said "al-Qaida's central leadership is reeling from the impact of the counter-terrorist successes of the U.S. and our allies. The central leadership of al-Qaida is at growing risk of breaking apart as our blows against the group create a level of disarray and confusion throughout the organization that we have not seen since the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001."

Democrats have said they are willing to provide the money sought by Bush, but that they want him to spell out details of his overall Iraq strategy.

For months, many Democrats and some Republicans have complained that the administration has offered few details about how it will rebuild Iraq, how much international support can be expected, how much American taxpayers will have to pay over the years and how long U.S. troops will be based there.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he will offer an amendment to the Iraq spending bill that would bar money for relief and reconstruction until Bush officially reports to Congress on his Iraq strategy.

"Before the Congress writes a blank check to the administration, we need to know what the broader plan is," Kennedy said in remarks prepared for the hearing.

Some Republicans have also criticized the administration. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said on CBS Tuesday the Bush administration "did a miserable job of planning the post-Saddam Iraq" and "they treated many in the Congress, most of the Congress like a nuisance."

Democrats are using the money request to argue that the administration didn't plan adequately for the war's aftermath, was overly optimistic about Iraqi and international cooperation and foolishly pushed through tax cuts even as the war aggravated a growing deficit.

On the Senate floor Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said there isn't enough money to meet Bush's own education goals, "and yet we're going to ask the American taxpayers to keep coughing up money for this quagmire that we're in now in Iraq."

"This may not be Vietnam, but boy, it sure smells like it," he said. "And every time I see these bills coming down for the money, it's costing like Vietnam, too."

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is demanding that tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers be postponed -- a proposal likely to face strong Republican opposition.

"Is this still a sacrificeless undertaking except those we send to Iraq?" he said in an interview. "Or is there actually something that Americans are going to be asked to do?"

Some lawmakers also said the $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction would receive particular scrutiny. Levin said in an interview that money would be wasted if the administration doesn't make a serious effort to secure help from other nations.

Administration officials say they want international participation, but it's not clear how much authority they are willing to cede in Iraq to secure it.

"If we don't get other countries involved, if we don't make a serious effort in the U.N., which other countries say is essential for their participation, then it increases the chances that the reconstruction money will be ineffective," Levin said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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