The $87 Billion Question

Sunday, 5 October 2003

President Bush's request for $87 billion in additional spending to support U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is now being considered by Congress. Of the total amount, about $20 billion is earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction efforts, and the other $67 billion will be used to support the U.S. military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recent polls indicate that a large majority of Americans oppose spending so much on Iraq. A CBS News/New York Times poll last week indicated that 34 percent of Americans support spending the amount the president is requesting, while 61 percent oppose it. Many people find it hard to swallow that the president is advocating spending so much rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure when roads, bridges, and schools in many parts of the U.S. are falling apart; more than 10 million people are unemployed; and more than 35 million people are in poverty. Some members of Congress are calling for the $20 billion for Iraq to be in the form of loans rather than grants. Others propose scaling back the Bush tax cuts, which went disproportionately to the rich, to pay for the $20 billion, or the entire $87 billion. The consensus of pundits seems to be that Congress will definitely approve the $67 billion in additional spending for U.S. troops and intelligence, though some doubt remains about the $20 billion to rebuild Iraq.

If the pundits are right, then the politicians have their priorities backwards. They should approve the $20 billion for reconstruction immediately but block the $67 billion in additional military spending.

Why approve $20 billion for reconstruction? Because the U.S. is responsible for the devastation our nation wreaked upon theirs. When I was a kid visiting my friend's house, if we made a mess in his room, I was always told to clean up the mess I had made before I came home. The same simple principle applies to Iraq. U.S. bombs, mortar shells, and bullets destroyed electricity grids, shut down phone service, further crippled an already dilapidated oil extraction and delivery system, and destroyed office buildings and homes. Since our attack on Iraq was unprovoked, we are liable for the damages. We can't drop bombs and then refuse to clean up our mess. We can't resurrect any of the thousands of Iraqis who were killed, but we can at least rebuild what we've destroyed. If it takes $20 billion to restore Iraq, fine. If it takes $200 billion, we should pay that as well. Once we (and the British) have fixed what we've broken, then we can go to the U.N. and ask member nations to contribute funds to counteract the devastating effects of twelve years of economic sanctions.

Why oppose $67 billion for additional military spending? The presence of the U.S. military in Iraq is expensive for U.S. taxpayers. More importantly, it is detrimental to the establishment of a viable Iraqi government. The vast majority of the Iraqi people, as well as the citizens of neighboring countries, oppose the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Their attitudes range from annoyance to resentment to maniacal hatred. Even those who opposed the rule of Saddam Hussein, undoubtedly a majority of the country, want the U.S. to go. Sabotage and attacks on U.S. and British troops by Iraqi soldiers and citizens (you're not a terrorist when you're fighting a foreign invader), and even attacks on the oil pipelines, will not lessen until the Americans have left. American and British troops should pull out as soon as replacement troops from the U.N. have been assembled. Attacks on U.N. personnel demonstrate that some Iraqis consider the U.N. to be little better than a lackey of the U.S. (some Americans in the administration seem to think that, too), but still the U.N. is much more popular than the U.S. at the moment. If the U.S. wants to be remembered as the nation that freed the Iraqi people of a hated dictator and not as the nation that occupied Iraq and ruled over a dark period of chaos in the country, it must pull its soldiers out now. Then we won't need to add $67 billion extra to an already bloated military budget.

With a budget deficit close to $500 billion even before the proposed $87 billion expenditure, one has to wonder what the administration's plan is for returning the country to a time of budget surpluses (remember the last few years of the Clinton presidency?), or at least sub-$100 billion deficits. The tax breaks for the rich that the Bush administration has pushed through Congress should be repealed so that those who were too poor to benefit from the child tax credits should be included. The reduction and eventual elimination of estate taxes on estates worth more then $3 million, another boondoggle for the rich, should be rescinded. Cuts in military spending--taken from the purchase of planes, ships, and weapons, not soldiers' salaries or benefits--should be made to pay for improvements to U.S. infrastructure and schools and to help states through their budget crises. Additional cuts in military spending should be made to reduce the budget deficit. This is not the place to identify all the mistaken priorities in the U.S. budget, but these are a few ideas for better ways to deal both with Iraq and with the current budget problems facing the U.S.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology