"If you can't win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people you can at least buy them."

Rick Little, a government tax adviser who keeps track of where every one of our tax dollars goes, told me, "You can't have a war without money -- lots of money."

"You mean for rebuilding the country?"

"That and more. That is only the beginning. For example, we now pay each informer $1,000 to tell us where an insurgent is hiding, and if his information is correct, a finder's fee of $25,000."

"It's cheap if it will help find the bad guy," I said.

"Then we have to pay the civilians who work with our troops a minimum of $100,000, tax free."

"Even the ones who help break down the prisoners for intelligence reasons?"

"The Pentagon doesn't make a big deal of it. Civilian contractors are important because they don't have to observe the Geneva Conventions. The chain of command considers it money well spent."

"Is that the tip of the iceberg?"

"No, the tip of the iceberg is that the U.S. needs tremendous funds to 'stay the course.' To do that, soldiers and Marines now carry cash in their knapsacks and pay off people.

"Someone who lost his home will get $2,500. If he was tortured and has the scars to show it, he will receive $1,000, and if we destroyed his car, we might give $500."

"If anyone can buy the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, America can," I said.

"The taxpayer can't complain about what we do with his or her money," Rick replied.

"Did we pay off the guy who tipped us off to where Saddam Hussein was hiding?"

"We gave him $25 million and he is now on a yacht in Monte Carlo."

"Are we still offering $25 million for Osama bin Laden?"

"We're doubling the price to show al Qaeda we mean business."

"What about Ahmed Chalabi?"

"When he was Iraq's poster boy for Paul Wolfowitz and the Pentagon, we gave him $333,000 a month. But after a great deal of his information turned out to be false, we cut him off."

"At least we were careful how we spent our dollars."

Rick said, "The beauty of America is we can buy anything we want to."

I said, "It's a great lesson in democracy for Iraq."

"The important thing now is what political party in Iraq should get money when we turn over the country to them."

"I guess that's what the CIA should decide," I suggested.

"They have millions of dollars at their disposal, but thank heaven they invest it wisely, and where it counts."

"If they don't, who will?" I said. "Does the CIA have any money to bribe other countries?"

"They probably do, but they don't talk about it."

I said, "People think you just can't make a democracy overnight without feeding it with our money. Can we do all these things and also give Americans a tax cut?"

"Of course. Fighting a war and giving everyone a tax cut have nothing to do with each other. As the president keeps saying, 'Trust me.' "

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services