Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the US provisional administration in Iraq, appeared before Congress last week to lobby hard for another $87 billion for nation building. This figure is in addition to the nearly $80 billion we’ve already spent in Iraq, and the new funding request is for 2004 only. If we stay in Iraq beyond 2004 and the administration has made it clear that reconstruction will be a long-term project American taxpayers easily could spend one trillion dollars over the coming years.
The stark reality is that the federal government will fund the open-ended occupation of Iraq either by raising taxes, borrowing overseas, or printing more money. All three options are bad for average Americans.
It’s important the American people know exactly what they will be paying for in Iraq. The $87 billion requested is such a huge sum that it seems meaningless to most of us. The details, however, will astound anyone who resents seeing their tax dollars spent overseas.
The following are just some of the administration’s requests:
$100 million for several new housing communities, complete with roads, schools, and a medical clinic;
$20 million for business classes, at a cost of $10,000 per Iraqi student; $900 million for imported kerosene and diesel, even though Iraq has huge oil reserves; $54 million to study the Iraqi postal system; $10 million for prison-building consultants; $2 million for garbage trucks; $200,000 each for Iraqis in a witness protection program; $100 million for hundreds of criminal investigators; and $400 million for two prisons, at a cost of nearly $50,000 per bed! I doubt very seriously that most Americans would approve of their tax dollars being used to fund these projects in Iraq.
Criticism of this foreign aid spending in Iraq is not restricted to the political left. Conservative groups and politicians are increasingly angry at the administration’s exorbitant spending. For example, Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee sits on the Appropriations committee, which is responsible for all spending bills. He has a modest idea: insist the reconstruction money be paid back as a loan when Iraq’s huge oil reserves resume operation. Similarly, Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona wants to offset every dollar spent reconstructing Iraq with spending cuts in other areas, especially given the amount of wasteful pork in the federal budget. But the White House is adamantly opposed to both ideas. Why is a supposedly conservative administration resisting even the slightest attempts at fiscal restraint?
We have embarked on probably the most extensive nation-building experiment in history. Our provisional authority seeks nothing less than to rebuild Iraq’s judicial system, financial system, legal system, transportation system, and political system from the top down all with hundreds of billions of US tax dollars. We will all pay to provide job-training for Iraqis, while more and more Americans find themselves out of work. We will pay to secure the Iraqi borders, while our own borders remain porous and vulnerable. We will pay for housing, health care, social services, utilities, roads, schools, jails, and food in Iraq, leaving American taxpayers with less money to provide these things for themselves at home. We will saddle future generations with billions in government debt. The question of whether Iraq is worth this much to us is one lawmakers should answer now by refusing to approve another nickel for nation building.