October 6, 2003
'MISSION NOT Accomplished," the editors of Time magazine
headline their latest cover story on Iraq.
In a sense, they're right. The job begun so bravely by our troops remains unfinished. Which is why it's imperative that Congress seriously consider President Bush's request for $87 billion - and do so as quickly as possible.
The $87 billion breaks down into two pieces. The larger, military portion is noncontroversial and should sail through Congress. But some lawmakers are raising questions about the remaining $20.3 billion earmarked for economic reconstruction.
Yet that figure represents a critically important investment, one that would fund a series of projects aimed at establishing a democratic Iraq on the ruins of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
If Congress delays or slashes the funds committed to Iraqi reconstruction, it will jeopardize Iraq's fragile political reform process, which could come unglued unless various Iraqi factions are motivated to cooperate in building a stable Iraq.
This request is a vital part of the war on terrorism, in which Iraq is a crucial front. If we don't help the Iraqis build a stable government, we risk turning Iraq into a failed state that soon would be infested with lethal terrorist networks, as Afghanistan was before the Taliban regime was overthrown.
Such an outcome would require an expensive long-term military commitment to contain hostile forces in Iraq and could lead to other costly terrorist attacks. Cutting the aid package, as Republican Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona has noted, would be "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
The war on terrorism can't be fought by military means alone. To isolate, weaken and defeat terrorist adversaries, we must use all of the tools at our disposal, including diplomacy, economic aid, political reform, intelligence sharing, law enforcement cooperation, educational reform and public diplomacy.
Washington must seek allies, particularly in the Muslim world, to help defeat the poisonous ideologies of Saddam Hussein's Baathist authoritarianism and Osama bin Laden's Islamic radicalism. A democratic Iraq would be a key ally, and a beacon to other oppressed peoples in the Middle East.
Part of the administration's aid package will be used to repair Iraq's crumbling infrastructure. The Iraqi Governing Council needs it to help put Iraqis back to work, repair the electricity grid and water distribution system and give Iraqis hope for the future.
Iraq is an oil-rich nation, but its oil fields, pipelines and refineries must be repaired and rebuilt before oil exports can flow on the same scale that they did before the war. Even with Iraq's projected oil revenues, the administration estimates that the country will need an additional $50 billion to $75 billion to rebuild its infrastructure over the next few years.
Some lawmakers are proposing that economic aid be extended as a loan instead of a grant. But Iraq already has a huge debt burden of $127 billion. Iraq wouldn't be able to pay us back any time soon. Moreover, heavy debt repayments could become a destabilizing political issue in postwar Iraq that could be exploited by anti-American factions. The onerous debt repayment schedule imposed on Germany after World War I contributed to that country's financial collapse in the 1930s and paved the way for the rise of the Nazi Party.
After World War II, the United States wisely and generously funded the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe, despite domestic political opposition similar to that over Iraq's reconstruction today. The Marshall Plan helped block communist subversion in Europe, just as the administration's Iraq aid proposal will block the ambitions of Baathists and Islamic radicals in the volatile Middle East.
With this funding request, Congress has a chance to support the building of a stable postwar government in Iraq. Yes, $87 billion is a lot of money, but if it helps us build a free and prosperous Iraq, it will be money well spent.
Ed Feulner is the president of the Heritage Foundation.
Appeared in The Baltimore Sun