The costs of occupying Iraq are growing more obvious and more imposing every day, and Democrats bridle at forcing Americans to bear them. During a recent presidential debate, one candidate after another assailed President Bush for his $87 billion request, which includes $20 billion for rebuilding the country.
Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri demanded to know how we can afford to upgrade the electrical grid in Iraq but not in the United States. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards criticized the portion allotted for reconstruction, saying, “I will not vote for the additional money unless we have an explanation about our allies coming in and what we’re going to do to share the costs with others.” Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said earlier he would oppose the request “if the president doesn’t set out the way in which he is going to internationalize this.”
On Capitol Hill, the doubts are spreading. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says virtually all Democratic senators favor making the aid to Iraq a loan, which would have to be repaid, and many Republicans are open to the idea.
All these politicians are certainly justified in pointing out the huge burden that the administration’s policy has placed on the American taxpayer. But as one of those who opposed the war from the beginning, I have a question: Where were they when we needed them?
Edwards and Kerry, after all, had the chance last October to vote against a resolution giving the president full authority to go to war in Iraq. But they voted yes. To see them balk now at the cost of an undertaking they endorsed suggests a convenient case of amnesia.
No one should be surprised that large numbers of American troops are still in Iraq, facing violent resistance. Plenty of experts predicted as much long before the war began. Nor should the price tag come as a shock. Lawrence Lindsey, then chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said last fall that the bill might climb as high as $200 billion. Those were very good reasons to oppose the invasion, particularly since the U.S. had effectively contained Saddam Hussein for more than a decade.
Yet a majority of Senate Democrats, along with 81 House Democrats, supported the president anyway. Gephardt said of Saddam Hussein at the time, “I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing him from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent.”
But having supported war then, they prefer not to pay the costs of war now. Their attitude is like that of a guy who goes to bed with a woman, gets her pregnant, and then is outraged when she asks him to pay child support. Maybe they should have thought about the burden they were about to incur while they had time to avoid it.
Gephardt, Edwards and Kerry all complain that President Bush failed to enlist allies to split the tab. But this is not a recent discovery, either. It was blindingly clear last fall that Bush had alienated most of the world with his policy, and that whatever we did in Iraq, we’d be doing alone. In spite of that, they went along with his plan.
Now that things have gone sour, they’re all eager to lament our predicament in Iraq. Yet they seem to have no good ideas for what to do about it.
The two basic options are 1) to keep our troops there for an extended period and invest lots of money in the hope of creating a prosperous and stable Iraq, or 2) to turn control over to Iraqis at the earliest possible date and beat a speedy retreat, even if that means the country falls apart. Neither alternative appeals to the late-arriving critics. They want a healthy, friendly Iraq, but they want it without any trouble or expense to us.
The idea of liberating a people from tyranny and then billing them for the favor is enough to embarrass a hyena. The same holds for appropriating future Iraqi oil revenues to cover our reconstruction expenses. The administration, which once entertained this fantasy, has recognized that saddling Iraq with $20 billion in new debt, on top of the $200 billion it already has, would be disastrous for everyone involved. Yet many of those who supported the war are not prepared to face such unpleasant facts.
It’s nice to find so many antiwar Democrats on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail. But really, the best time to oppose a war is before it starts.
Steve Chapman writes for Creators Syndicate.