Even in a world that's come to assume that Uncle Sam always pays the bills and sends thank-you notes, the war against Iraq is stacking up an impressive list of countries to be paid and countries to be thanked.
This time, as President Bush leads a "coalition partnership" to war against Iraq, it's almost certain that Americans will owe something to the partners for getting in the war alongside us.Strange as we find the ways of the Middle East, it's also a certainty that Americans will owe another something to Israel for staying out of the war.
As the architect and leader of the U.N. opposition to Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait, America's debt won't stop with payments to those allies who got in the war and to friends who stayed out.
Americans will also end up deeper in debt to another batch of friends whose decision was to stay almost completely clear of the war, most notably Japan and Germany.
It's not gratitude but cash, repayment of billions of dollars in borrowed money that America will owe fair-weather friends, major consumers of Middle East oil who've given notice they expect America to guarantee future oil deliveries but they won't be involved in conflict.
The real role of Japan and Germany in the war against Iraq will be as lenders, purchasers of U.S. securities, so long as the interest rates are satisfactory.
The dollar cost to Americans in the war effort itself is already said to be about $30 billion for deployment of U.S. military forces and another $1 billion to $2 billion a day while the fighting goes on.
Bush has often recited the "partnership" list of nations allied in the war against Iraq and, most recently, he's been effusive in his thanks to Israel for staying off the list.
But there's been no accounting of what all of it will cost and what promises have been made in order to hold together Bush's "coalition partnership."
What, for example, has been promised Turkey so that, in return, Turkey shut off oil from Iraq and now allows U.S. aircraft to attack Iraq from Turkish bases? Or what has been promised Syria, a nation at the top of America's list of outlaws but a member of the coalition?
The administration has already forgiven an estimated $5 billion in outstanding debt to encourage Egypt's membership in the coalition. What else has been promised?
More affluent members of the coalition - Britain, France, Italy and other European nations - will be thanked. But were other promises made to them? And what new promises have been made to Israel for staying out of the war we've pleaded with other nations to get into?
The coalition itself, forged by Secretary of State James Baker in hectic travels among U.N. supporters of resolutions directed at Iraq, remains a strange creature of Bush's invention.
While the president invariably portrays the coalition as a durable partnership, its durability is constantly questioned by the White House itself and the most vigorous congressional supporters.
Once the war was launched to liberate Kuwait, the coalition was together and rock-solid, according to Bush. But almost immediately the same coalition was threatened with break-up after the Iraqi missile attacks on Israel.
Saddam's intent was obvious: to split Arab nations from the coalition by inducing Israeli reprisals. In unmistakable agreement with Saddam's estimate of the coalition's cohesiveness, the administration pleaded with Israel not to counterattack.
So the coalition holds, for now. Later on, Americans will learn what it's costing.