WASHINGTON — NOW that United States-led multinational forces are entrenched in Saudi Arabia, and economic sanctions against Iraq are beginning to bite, the question of the week in Washington is: Who's paying for all this? Members of Congress are flooding back into town with money on their minds, many saying voters back home want US allies to ante up more for the Gulf effort. Alert to a possible political danger, President Bush has dispatched two Cabinet secretaries, tin cups in hand, on overseas fund-raising missions.
Most foreign contributions will go toward easing the plight of Egypt, Turkey, and other Middle East nations whose economies are being disrupted by the crisis. Unavoidably, much of the cost for the US military deployment will be borne by US taxpayers - meaning this year's goal of $50 billion in deficit reductions looks increasingly unrealistic.
``We may have to tailor our sights'' on the budget, admitted House minority leader Robert Michel (R) of Illinois Sept. 4.[?
Congress may have been on recess during the crucial weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but now that September is here legislators are rushing to make up for their previous low profile.
House and Senate delegations have already been out to Saudi Arabia to visit US troops - moving around the region so fast one lawmaker said they seemed to be traveling by ``pogo stick.'' Member after member has trooped to the podiums of Capitol press galleries to assure the nation the morale of US forces is good - and to grumble quietly that they want more support from allies.
When Rep. Dante Fascell (D) of Florida greeted Secretary of State James Baker III at a Sept. 4 hearing on the Gulf crisis, he said legislators had many questions - and burden-sharing was the first one he listed, demonstrating the level of congressional concern.
Mr. Baker replied that ``we're seeing a responsibility-sharing effort that's unprecedented,'' and pointed to the fact that Japan has already pledged $1 billion. Saudi Arabia, as a direct beneficiary of the US presence, is also helping out by providing much of the fuel for US forces, among other items.
But Baker is already on the road, asking for more. In line with Mr. Bush's desire to get the allies to pay as much as possible, Baker will visit the Gulf states this week and West Germany, Italy, and perhaps other European capitals later in the month. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady is on a similar mission to Paris, London, Seoul, and Tokyo.
In recent days, Japanese politicians have been agonizing over how much of a role their nation should play in the Gulf crisis.
While pushing Japan to do as much as it can, the US should also respect the difficulties Tokyo has with this issue, analysts say. The Gulf crisis is in essence causing the Japanese to confront in a few weeks a degree of foreign engagement they might otherwise have had years to get used to.
And the US should not rush to get even token Japanese and German military forces in the Gulf, as such a move could cause uneasiness with these nation's Asian and European neighbors. ``We ought to be wary of any solution that moves German and Japanese forces beyond the ranges they now operate,'' says Thomas McNaugher, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Initial funds from allies will go toward bolstering the economies of Middle East states in the front lines against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Egypt, for instance, is losing tens of millions of dollars in hard-currency remittances once sent by Egyptians working in Kuwait. Bush's proposal that Egypt's $7 billion military debt to the US be canceled is a show of support for this ally.
Trade with Iraq is also a major contributor to Turkey's economy - though outside of Iraq itself Jordan's economic structure is the one most at risk from sanctions. Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan together would need around $10 billion in economic assistance through the end of next year, according to US estimates.
Asked where money solicited by Secretaries Bush and Brady would be going, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Sept. 4 that ``most of it will be for other countries.''
In the longer term officials hope US allies will pick up more of the check for the Pentagon's force deployments. A proposal reviewed at the White House last week called for allies to contribute $13 billion for US military transportation and other logistics costs, along with the $10 billion in front-line state economic aid.