“$225 Billion and Still No Exit Plan”

President George W. Bush has now asked Congress and the U.S. taxpayers for the fourth time in two years for more money to fight the Iraq War. This time the request is for $82 billion, the highest amount asked for so far. But more striking than the dollar amount is that Mr. Bush, for the fourth time, has failed to present a strategy for success in Iraq.

Lacking such a plan, Americans and Iraqis will “stay the course” and in the process, suffer more deaths, fail to rebuild a war-torn country, and put the United States into further debt. Just as any Fortune 500 company formulates a business plan, U.S. taxpayers, or “business investors” should expect no less from their government.

First and foremost, the Iraqi people deserve a plan. In national elections, Iraqis took the valiant step of voting in order to change the course of events. While the jubilation in the streets was very real, it masked another reality–over two-thirds of the Shi’ites want U.S. forces out of Iraq either immediately or once the elected government is in place.

Without a clear exit strategy, initial public support for the elections could result in a much larger uprising against the United States and the nascent Iraqi government. One that could join the Shi’ites with the Sunnis, produce new levels of bloodshed and force the United States into the middle of a civil war.

To help keep this scenario from happening, the United States should make its intentions clear as Iraqis negotiate the shape of the government and its new cabinet. The careful negotiations that are happening now must be built upon a clear understanding of what the United States’ role and responsibilities will be in the coming year. Otherwise, future U.S. actions could risk toppling the careful balance of the new Iraqi government.

In the United States, we also deserve a plan. Our soldiers and their families are suffering the most, with 1,500 troops dying so far. Morale is becoming a problem. Many soldiers have been deployed to Iraq several times in the past two years. An estimated 40,000 soldiers have been subject to involuntary extensions of their service, and those in the Reserve and National Guard have been serving exceedingly long tours.

Plus every taxpayer is being called upon to fund the war. With the latest request, the average household will pay nearly $2,000 in taxes. To honor the lives lost and to justify the huge budget deficits this war has caused, the American people deserve a plan.

The international community also needs a plan. Earlier this month, two more countries in the “coalition of the willing” removed their troops, bringing the total number of countries who have left since 2004 to 10. Twenty other members of the coalition now have troop contributions of less than 1,000.

Instead of devising a real solution to stem the loss of partners, the Bush administration has proposed a new way of keeping the coalition together: money. The supplemental request earmarks $400 million for nations that have sent troops, rewarding them for taking “political and economic risks.”

Having a plan is no guarantee of success but having a plan is a start. The pathway to a free, democratic, and fully reconstructed Iraq is long and treacherous. But there’s no sign that continuing the administration’s current mission will produce victory. In fact, as the post-election casualties have shown, the human costs to Iraqis and Americans continue to climb.

As Congress considers Bush’s request for $82 billion over the next few weeks, members should demand a plan for winning the peace. Such a plan must include clear, achievable goals, a timetable for withdrawal, benchmarks for reconstruction, and a real estimate of the total cost.

The president has asked for tremendous sacrifices from our soldiers, Iraqis and the world. Let’s have a plan for success to make those sacrifices worthwhile.