Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Patriot Tax

[posted by Callimachus]

Over the years since 9/11, I don't think any columnist I've read has more consistently said things I wanted to hear said than Tom Friedman. I don't say that with swollen breast, because there's a whole lot of people on every side of the question who will sneer at anyone who tends to agree with Friedman.

But it's a fact, in my case. Not that I always think he has the right answer or the right tone. But I have never yet read him and thought, "Well, that was totally off base." Which I can't say about anyone else.

His latest column is just right on the mark. It's about the lack of effort put forth in this war, by all of us except those actually over there doing the job. It starts with the Walter Reed scandal, but moves rapidly from there, firing as it goes. If it has a topic sentence, this is it:

Bush summoned the country to D-Day and prepared the Army, the military health system, military industries and the American people for the invasion of Grenada.

From the start, the Bush team has tried to keep the Iraq war “off the books” both financially and emotionally. As Larry Diamond of Stanford’s Hoover Institution said to me: “America is not at war. The U.S. Army is at war.” The rest of us are just watching, or just ignoring, while the whole fight is carried on by 150,000 soldiers and their families.

In an interview Jan. 16, Jim Lehrer asked Bush why, if the war on terrorism was so overwhelmingly important, he had never asked more Americans “to sacrifice something.” Bush gave the most unbelievable answer: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”


If you want to compare Bush in this regard with Presidents Roosevelt or Wilson, pick up a copy of Robert Hormats’ soon-to-be-published book: “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.”

“In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,” said Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International).

He quotes Roosevelt’s 1942 State of the Union address, during which FDR looked Americans in the eye and said: “War costs money. That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an ‘all-out’ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.”

Ever heard Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a “crushing superiority” in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

As retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton pointed out last year, because of spending in Iraq, the Army had a $530 million budget shortfall for posts, so facilities got squeezed.

If Americans had been asked to pay a small tax to fill that gap, they would have overwhelmingly checked that box. They would have also paid a “Patriot Tax” of 50 cents a gallon to raise the money and diminish our dependence on oil.

Remember after 9/11, when Americans gave so much blood the Red Cross didn't know what to do with it all? Remember all that energy and will to sacrifice? What if that could have been harnessed and put to work.

Instead of that future, we have this reality. One thing we still can do is take care of those who did make the sacrifices. Friedman's column lists a few places to do that, which I hereby pass on to you:

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