Roger Simon: I do not understand why some people are opposed to a $25 billion government bailout of the U.S. auto industry.
The price is cheap. That $25 billion represents less than three months of the cost of the Iraq war.
To put it another way: If Barack Obama would end the Iraq war just three months early, he could pay for the entire U.S. auto industry bailout, and have about $5 billion left over to spend on luxury items like U.S. education, health care and the environment.
But nobody is putting it that way. The media have grown bored with the Iraq war. We seem more fascinated with who is going to be the next deputy under secretary of party hats at the inauguration than the continued fighting and dying in Iraq.
It is hard to find a story about the Iraq war. I found a tiny one the other day that read: "As of Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, at least 4,203 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count."
There are many Websites that keep track of those killed and wounded in Iraq. As I write this, the American death count has risen to 4,205, with the last American fatality on Monday. Did you read about it anywhere?
But that just concentrates on human life. Let's get down to what really is upsetting people these days: money.
You can find different figures for the monthly cost of the Iraq war. Some say it is $12 billion a month. In mid-January of this year, at a debate in Las Vegas, Barack Obama said, "Currently, we are spending $9 to $10 billion a month" on the Iraq war.
When he spoke to the NAACP Convention in July of this year, he said, "If people tell you that we cannot afford to invest in education or health care or fighting poverty, you just remind them that we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq."
Then he went on, "And if we can spend that much money in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in big cities and small towns in every corner of this country."
He is absolutely right. And Obama even had the guts to point out that we could spend some of the money that we now spend on foreign wars on foreign aid.
At a Democratic debate in February in Austin, Texas, Obama said: "Our entire foreign aid to Latin America is $2.7 billion, approximately what we spend in Iraq in a week. Is it any surprise, then, that you've seen people like Hugo Chavez and countries like China move into the void, because we've been neglectful of that."
Unfortunately, the actual date for our withdrawal from Iraq has been slipping. Many people went to the polls in November 2006 thinking they were electing a Democratic Congress that would end the war. Ho. Ho. Ho. Instead they got a Democratic Congress that continued to fund the war.
On Jan. 15 of this year, Obama said, "I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009."
That's not going to happen. The Obama-Biden Website now says: "Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — more than 7 years after the war began."
But think what would happen if President Obama could just goose up that date even by a few months. Aside from the deaths and injuries it would save, it would save us billions of dollars, and some of those billions could be used to bail out our auto industry.
Chrysler, GM and Ford employ about a quarter of a million people here in America, and if they go under, it is estimated that another 4 million U.S. jobs will be lost.
I understand the anger at throwing U.S. tax dollars at ill-run companies presided over by arrogant men. For years, Detroit made crappy cars. My father never owned anything but American cars. I have owned exactly one, my first car. It was a Ford, and the guy at the garage that I (constantly) took it to told me Ford stood for Fix Or Repair Daily.
I also understand, however, that American cars have gotten a lot better, but our auto industry is saddled with structural problems, incompetent management and union benefits that make it uncompetitive with Japanese companies.
On Monday, at a news conference, Obama said, "Taxpayers can't be expected to pony up more money for an auto industry resistant to change."
He is right. The auto industry must change before it can get a dollar.
But Obama was also right when he said Tuesday at a news conference: "If we're going to do the spending we need, we are going to have to shed the spending we don't need. We simply can't afford it."
He also said: "We will still have to make some tough choices. There are still going to be programs that don't work that we will have to eliminate."
I suggest that we eliminate the war in Iraq. It is a program that doesn't work. If, after more than five and a half years, the Iraqis won't stand up and fight for their own country, we can no longer be expected to do it for them.
We can't afford it. If it's a choice between shedding American lives in Iraq or saving American jobs in the United States, I choose jobs.
In a column on Nov. 16, David Broder cited a post-election poll by Stan Greenburg, a Democratic pollster, that found "the three most important reasons voters gave for supporting Obama concerned his promises to withdraw troops from Iraq, to cut middle-class taxes and to expand health insurance coverage."
The media may have forgotten Iraq, but the public has not.
And the public wants out of Iraq. Barack Obama promised to do it, and it's a promise he should keep. The earlier the better.