'3 a.m. in the Morning'

In the run up to the Texas and Ohio primaries, the Clinton campaign ran what came to be known as the "3 a.m. in the Morning" ad. It showed a mother checking on her sleeping children in the dead of night. Fade to a phone ringing in the White House and a voice asking the rhetorical question: 'Who would you want answering that phone?' The ad then cut to Hillary Clinton reaching to pick up the phone.

It was an ad designed to play to the worst fears of voters and it was hugely effective. The Obama camp responded, making the point that the — a.m. crisis call had already been made and had to do with the decision to invade Iraq. Hillary Clinton answered that ringing phone, and joining George W. Bush and the majority of Congress, voted to go to war. In the words of Obama, that decision drove our country into a ditch from which we are unable to extract ourselves.

While the image of a bus mired in a deep ditch is on point, it cannot begin to capture the impact of this singular foreign policy decision on America. That one vote, ill-considered and hasty by many, was no small thing. The consequences will ripple through our nation for generations to come. The implications have yet to be openly and completely discussed by Congress, this administration, or by the candidates. In fact, the White House has gone to great lengths to disguise the costs of this war in lives and treasure.

While the war has receded from the headlines &

our soldiers are killed weekly and barely a mention is made, the nation's fatigue palatable &

it remains as a leeching, debilitating reality (read nightmare) that we ignore to our peril. Once again, that vote to authorize the president to invade Iraq was huge, involving an absence of judgment and prescient wisdom that, upon reflection, is staggering.

In a recent article in the New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the war in Iraq "will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion and perhaps more." According to Herbert, Chuck Shumer, chair of the Joint Economic committee, recently held a hearing on the costs of the war. The witnesses were top tier economists, including the Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz who believes that the eventual cost of the war will reach $3 trillion.

The sum $3 trillion is such an abstraction as to be rendered almost meaningless. But if we begin with 3,971 soldiers killed and 29,203 seriously wounded (maimed and dismembered), as of Feb. 24, 2008, we can begin the process of making that number more meaningful while willing ourselves to not be distracted or treat the ongoing, intractable Iraq policy as business as usual.

Consider the following, gleaned from various websites: As of last fall the daily cost of the war was $195- $270 million. Cost of deploying one soldier to Iraq, $390,000 (not counting possible medical treatments for wounds both physical and psychological). Lost and unaccounted for: $9 billion. Mismanaged and wasted: $10 billion, per Feb. 2007 Congressional hearings. Amount paid to KBR, a former division of Halliburton, for food, fuel and housing: $20 billion. Number of major U.S. bases in Iraq: 75. Cost of the U.S. embassy, close to $1 billion. The cost to Iraq in terms of civilian and police casualties and devastated infrastructure and forced emigration is incalculable.

And here is another way of framing the impact: Assuming that the cost of just one day of warfare and logistical support in Iraq is $195 million, we could accomplish the following with just that one day's expenditure: Offer health care coverage for almost 400,000 uninsured children; enroll 27,000 more children in head start; provide more than 79,000 needy college students with Pell grants; employ over 4,000 elementary school teachers for one year; pay for 1,000 additional border patrol agents; immunize every baby born in the U.S. against measles, mumps and rubella 14 times over; fund social security retirement benefits for one day for over 6 million retirees. We could begin one of the largest public works projects in our nation's history to restore our failing infrastructure and begin an environmental Manhattan Project to go green and putting thousands to work.

The war vote was a defining moment for those in Congress and for our nation. "Imagine then," testified Stiglitz, "what a war &

that will almost surely involve more than 2 million troops and will almost surely last more than six or seven years &

will cost. Already we are seeing large number of returning veterans showing up at V.A. hospitals for treatment, large numbers applying for disability, and large numbers with severe psychological problems."

Meanwhile, as Stiglitz points out in Herbert's article, fighting a war while cutting taxes and increasing expenditures is foolhardy, increasing our national debt, it is estimated, to $2 trillion by 2017. Or, put another way, this policy is beyond the pale, representing a fiscal obtuseness and arrogance that is breathtaking.

And there was the president last week, waiting for John McCain (we will be in Iraq for 100 years) to arrive at the White House for lunch, ready to give him his endorsement as the presumptive Republican nominee. McCain was late and Bush stood under a portico waiting. With the press in attendance, cameras rolling, Bush began to do what appeared to be a soft shoe dance, laughing and gesturing to the assembled audience. Likely some families of soldiers on their third and fourth tour or veterans lying in hospital beds at Walter Reed were not laughing.

When the White House phone rings at — a.m. in the morning, who picks it up is of overwhelming importance. This we now know.

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