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More Iinconvenient Truth-tellers

Martin County Democrats

By Dan Moffett
Palm Beach Post Columnist

Sunday, July 16, 2006

You may remember a portly, scholarly fellow by the name of Lawrence Lindsey who in December 2002 probably got as famous as he's going to get.

Mr. Lindsey earned a couple of degrees in economics from Harvard, served on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, became a favored Republican economist during the Reagan administration and wrote a book called The Growth Experiment: How the New Tax Policy Is Transforming the U.S. Economy that is about as far removed from beach reading as it gets.

On taking office in 2001, President Bush named the erudite Mr. Lindsey to be his chief economic adviser as director of the National Economic Council and assigned him the task of developing the administration's tax-cut plan - which was pretty much already developed, since Mr. Lindsey also had been candidate Bush's chief economic adviser.

What had been a cozy relationship abruptly turned marble cold on Dec. 6, 2002, when Mr. Lindsey resigned, along with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. The president released a statement written from a computer template that praised Mr. Lindsey as "highly talented and dedicated" and Mr. Lindsey released a soppy letter praising President Bush but allowing that the time had come to "devote myself to other pursuits."

Assorted leaks from assorted sources attributed Mr. Lindsey's tough-love firing to his lack of managerial skills or his inability to communicate a coherent message of something called "the president's economic vision" to Congress.

But in reality, we now know that Mr. Lindsey had been Shinsekied.

The infinitive verb - to Shinseki - owes its origins to Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff who lost his job because he told Congress the truth about how many troops would be needed to occupy Iraq. He put the number at "several hundred thousand;" the White House disagreed by more than half.

Gen. Shinseki became Mr. Shinseki in a matter of weeks. But his name lives on. Wherever honest and courageous public servants are punished for being right, Gen. Shinseki's memory will be invoked.

The Shinsekying of Mr. Lindsey actually predated the Shinsekying of Gen. Shinseki by several months but was much less public and only recently has been fully understood.

Mr. Lindsey committed the fatal error of disagreeing with the White House - in a Wall Street Journal story, no less - over the cost of the Iraq War as the administration was trumping up its hyperbolic case for invasion. He predicted that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion; the Bush neoconservatives put the cost at about $60 billion, and the Defense Department's Paul Wolfowitz had the temerity to tell Congress that Iraq could pay for much of the reconstruction bill itself by selling its oil.

Naturally, it is impossible to Shinseki anyone as wrong and duplicitous as Mr. Wolfowitz. Mr. Lindsey lost his job for forthrightness and accuracy, qualities that will earn you a computer-generated farewell letter from the Bush administration.

Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the Iraq War's costs. The CBO says it has cost almost $300 billion and will total almost a half-trillion dollars even if all U.S. troops were withdrawn by the end of 2009.

Since 2003, the government has spent $291 billion for Iraq, which includes $45 billion from a $94.5 billion hurricane relief and war financing measure Congress cobbled together and passed last month. Under the most optimistic scenario - if the Pentagon is able to remove nearly all troops from Iraq within the next three years - the CBO estimates that the war could cost $184 billion more. If withdrawal takes longer, the cost could easily exceed $400 billion more over the next decade.

Whatever happened to that $60 billion price tag from December 2002? How incompetent does a government have to be to miscalculate by, oh, a half-trillion dollars or so?

Mr. Lindsey at least saw some of this coming four years ago and tried to sound the alarm. But all that got him was Shinsekied.

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