Monday, September 29, 2003

Paying the price in Iraq
Boston Globe Editorial, September 29, 2003

THE BUSH administration's failures to foresee and prepare for postwar developments in Iraq have made the task of rehabilitating Iraq much harder and more expensive than it should have been. Nevertheless, it would be foolish for Congress to compound the administration's blunders and misjudgments by skimping on the funds needed to help Iraqis revive their blasted country. There is good reason to castigate the administration for failing to knit together a broad international coalition to share the costs of rebuilding Iraq. The first President Bush, assisted by his Secretary of State James Baker, built such a coalition in 1990 to drive Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait. So successful was their old-fashioned exercise in diplomacy that Saudi Arabia, Japan, and other rich states paid that war.

Members of Congress are justified in pointing to the $87 billion President Bush has requested and complaining that the taxpayers are being asked to pay the bill for his feckless unilateralism. Executive branch ideologues act as though the internationalism of this president's father was the quaint fashion of another era and not an indispensable attribute of successful statecraft.

Congressional critics of the $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan have generally accepted the need for funds to support US troops. Their criticism is directed at the $20.3 billion portion of the request that is intended primarily to pay for security, basic services, and infrastructure in Iraq.

The critics -- some Republicans as well as Democrats -- are right to question the domestic implications of spending $20 billion dollars for electricity, public works, and public safety in Iraq at a time when the US electrical grid needs upgrading, roads and bridges in this country are falling into disrepair, and local police are being laid off because state budgets are in dire straits.

No less justified are the critics' complaints about who is and who is not being asked to sacrifice. The price for Iraq's rehabilitation is hard to bear because of a $500 billion budget deficit swollen by the tax cuts Bush has lavished mostly on the rich. So there is a sound pedagogical point in a bill Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden introduced: They want Iraq's reconstruction to be financed with a rollback of Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy. A strong 56 percent of respondents to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll favored this method of paying for efforts to secure and rebuild Iraq.

Expensive as it is becoming, Iraq's passage from fascistic police state toward pluralist democracy should be sustained -- preferably by the international community, and if not, by the United States. The right way to correct Bush's blunders is politically, not by betraying the oft-betrayed people of Iraq.


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