Imagine that your country has been invaded by a foreign power. Hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens have died, 4 million are displaced, and you no longer have access to basic services such as electricity and running water. How would you feel if the foreign occupier asked you to start picking up the tab for this disaster?
I have been appalled at the bipartisan push in Congress for the Iraqi people to start paying for everything from rebuilding infrastructure that the US destroyed to an unsustainable “Sunni Awakening” security program that the US started and that is unlikely to be a long-term success. Congressional Quarterly notes today that this idea is gaining popularity on both sides of the aisle, regardless of people’s feelings about the Iraq war:
For the first time since the Iraq War began, the Senate has a good chance of succeeding in efforts to shift some of the conflict’s cost from the United States to Iraq.
After a series of failed attempts by Democrats to move legislation that would have compelled President Bush to change his war policies, the Senate will later this month take up the newly minted defense authorization bill, which would begin to cut the financial cord between Baghdad and Washington.
The measure would bar Pentagon spending in the coming fiscal year on major reconstruction work in Iraq and lay the groundwork for Baghdad to start paying its own military bills, as well as some of Washington’s expenses. The measure is expected to pass the Senate and crop up in the House.
Lawmakers in both chambers want the provision to be a part of the supplemental war spending bill as well, and to cover nearly all future U.S. government reconstruction spending in Iraq, not just that of the Pentagon. And they may apply its limitations to previously appropriated funds that have not yet been spent.
Fueling the measure’s advance is the growing frustration on Capitol Hill with the cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers while Iraq earns billions of dollars in revenues from record oil prices.
That seeming inequity has made restricting U.S. spending in Iraq a compelling cause for lawmakers of both parties, whatever their views on the war.
The measure is also unusual because of how it was crafted. A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers coordinated with the White House on the Iraq reconstruction provision — instead of the Democrats going it alone as they have in the past, only to see their policy prescriptions die in the Senate or fall to Bush’s veto pen.
On the issue of the “surplus,” here’s what Kathy Kelly has to say:
In light of reports that rising oil prices will endow Iraqis with a large surplus of funds, it’s helpful to consult commentary by seasoned analysts regarding energy issues. On April 11, UPI’s Energy Editor Ben Lando clarified that “Iraq would not make $100 billion in oil sales this year … unless the price of oil went substantially higher, like nearing $200 per barrel. And the ’surplus’ would be anything beyond the $50 billion 2008 budget, which at current oil prices will give it just about a $10 billion surplus.”
In February, Iraq produced 2.4 million barrels per day of oil, of which about 1.6 million barrels per day are exported from the south (the rest being for domestic consumption). Assume a price of $100 per barrel of oil; multiply it by 1.6 million barrels; and multiply again by 365 days and you get $58.4 billion in annual revenue from oil. Iraq’s budget for 2008 is about $54.3 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund. Any decline in oil prices, damage to Iraq’s oil infrastructure, or other shock to production and Iraq’s “surplus” vanishes into thin air.
I noticed this troubling trend beginning last year as more members of Congress expressed skepticism about the war in Iraq. The basis of their arguments was that the US was doing a fabulous job but the Iraqi people just wouldn’t step up and “take advantage of the opportunity” the US was providing. It seemed to me that members of Congress were trying to take an easy out by opposing the war but not leveling any criticism against the US military strategy (which does not mean you are not “supporting the troops”).
This problematic trend has been taken to a whole new level now. I completely understand that members of Congress are latching on to the economic message as the economy is the number one concern of the American public. However, this sloppy shortcut that further dehumanizes and blames the Iraqi people for the US’s foreign policy disaster is outrageous and ignores the long-term security and political interests the US has in assuring more stability in Iraq, not to mention a moral obligation.
I think there is an effective way to address the American public’s concerns about the economic downturn while still honoring the fact that we have an obligation and an interest in funding a strategy that will repair as much of the damage in Iraq as possible.
First, there is the current situation: the US government continues to squander billions of tax dollars on a strategy that has not produced significant progress in the last five years. The Petraeus hearings demonstrated that there is no definition of success or actual plan to make that happen, so we are throwing our tax dollars in a black hole.
The alternative is we could make a wise investment of US tax dollars in a strategy that actually has the promise of repairing some of the damage and decreasing the violence. This means funding a safe, orderly and swift withdrawal of US troops and private contractors. Funding and personnel resources can be redirected to addressing the refugee crisis, engaging Iraq’s neighbors diplomatically, and supporting Iraqi-led reconstruction projects. Not only is this kind of strategy far more likely to be effective, it is less expensive and more cost efficient. Would you pay more money for a car that doesn’t run when you could pay less and actually get somewhere?
One of my many frustrations with Congress is what strikes me as their inability to message effectively around the war in Iraq and what they plan to do about it. What are all these highly-trained communications staffers for if not crafting aggressive and effective messaging strategies on a pragmatic and morally sound way to end the war in Iraq?
The American people are generous people—we have seen that in the outpouring of donations for Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami. Speak to our self-interest, but also speak to the fact that when we see and understand human suffering like what’s happening in Iraq, we are willing to help.