The Cost of the Iraq War: Background
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JIM LEHRER: A three-part look at postwar Iraq. First, a Senate committee looks at the costs of the occupation and reconstruction. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Paul Bremer is scheduled to testify before six different congressional committees this week. At all of them he will attempt to convince skeptical members of Congress to approve $87 billion in emergency funding President Bush has requested, almost all of it to continue U.S. Operations in Iraq. This afternoon, Bremer, the U.S. postwar administrator, told members of the Senate appropriations committee that there is a direct link between the $87 billion request and the ongoing war on terrorism.
L. PAUL BREMER: Terrorists love state sponsors, countries that provide them with cash, arms, refuge, a protected place to rest and plan future operations. Saddam’s Iraq was one of those countries. If terrorists cannot find a congenial state sponsor, they thrive in chaotic environments with little or no effective government. When militias, warlords, and communities war with each other, terrorists are right at home. Think back on the Lebanon we knew in the 1980s. Either outcome or some combination of both is possible in Iraq if we do not follow up on our military victory with the wherewithal to win the peace. The opposite is also true. Creating a sovereign, democratic, constitutional, and prosperous Iraq deals a blow to terrorists. It gives the lie to those who describe us as the enemies of Islam, enemies of the Arabs, or enemies of the poor. That is why the president’s $87 billion request has to be seen as an important element in the global war on terrorism.
KWAME HOLMAN: Included in the president’s $87 billion request is nearly $66 billion to pay for continued military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining $21 billion would be earmarked for reconstruction efforts, almost all of it to be spent in Iraq.
L. PAUL BREMER: Here are some of the main areas in which the president plans to use the supplemental to bring essential services to the Iraqi people: $5.7 billion for the electrical system; $2.1 billion for the oil infrastructure; $3.7 billion for potable water, sewer systems and related public works; $3.7 billion for water resources, transportation, telecommunications, housing and construction, health and private sector development.
KWAME HOLMAN: It’s generally assumed that members of congress won’t hesitate to provide the military money the president has requested.
SEN. TED STEVENS: I haven’t had one member of this committee tell me they are opposed to the military money in this bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: But many congressional Democrats and some Republicans as well are reluctant to spend more on the Iraq reconstruction effort without a clear idea of how that money will be spent. West Virginia’s Robert Byrd has been one of the harshest critics of the president’s Iraq policies.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: The president’s request for an additional $87 billion for the military and for the reconstruction of Iraq is eye- popping– “e-y-e,” eye-popping. This request comes at a time when the American people are expressing serious reservations about the president’s go-it- alone occupation of Iraq. The American people are asking questions about the reconstruction plan. They are questioning the wisdom of a policy that has our soldiers serving as sitting ducks in an Iraqi shooting gallery. We have the weapons to win the war, but we have not shown the wisdom to win the peace. What has become tragically clear is that the United States has no strong plan for reconstruction and no clear concept for maintaining order. America is stumbling through the dark, hoping by luck to find the lighted path to peace and stability in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Byrd’s long statement angered New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: The last I remember, the vote in the United States Senate for this war was 77 senators “aye” and 23 “no.” I would think that we could at least say that the Congress of the United States declared this war. And it’s not the president’s war, it’s our war.
KWAME HOLMAN: Domenici then asked Bremer if he, in fact, does have a detailed plan for Iraq reconstruction.
L. PAUL BREMER: We do have a plan. The plan addresses four major areas: Restoring security, restoring essential services, giving Iraq a vibrant private economy, and transforming Iraq’s political structure to provide for a sovereign, democratic Iraq. Each of those four areas is then enlightened by a serious of particular steps. And to answer your question, there are timelines and metrics on every single one of those steps.
KWAME HOLMAN: The plan came as a surprise to Democrats Byrd and Leahy of Vermont. They said they never got copies even though Bremer insisted all 535 members Congress were sent one.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I don’t doubt your word that it was sent out. Maybe it’s in the – like the proverbial check, it’s in the mail.
KWAME HOLMAN: Utah Republican Robert Bennett asked Bremer to respond to critics who argue the Iraq reconstruction money could be better spent here at home.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Why are we spending money to build schools and pave roads and do all of these wonderful things in Iraq, when we need more schools and roads et cetera in the United States? As I look through your presentation, there is none of that.
L. PAUL BREMER: The main thrust of what we’re trying to do here is get the fundamental preconditions, the economic and essential service preconditions that will allow Iraq to create a vibrant private sector which can then pay for itself. And I should say that if one looks forward in the budgeting process, our estimate is that by 2005, Iraq’s oil revenues should be more than sufficient to pay for the Iraqi government and provide an extra amount that can be used for capital investment in other areas.
KWAME HOLMAN: North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan wondered why Iraq couldn’t pay for its own reconstruction through its oil revenues.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Why would we not use the Iraq oil revenues to collateralize loans from the IMF or the World Bank to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq?
L. PAUL BREMER: I believe it would be a mistake to lay any more debt onto the backs of the Iraqis. They are under a burden, an extraordinary burden, about roughly 100 to $120 billion of debt, entered into by Saddam’s regime over the last 20 years or so, and another 90 to $100 billion in claimed reparations from countries because of Saddam’s wars.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Did you then developing a new government in Iraq inherit the responsibility for the debt it created by Saddam Hussein?
L. PAUL BREMER: Of course we do inherit the debt, that’s international law, until something is done about that debt by a sovereign government, which will come into being after the elections.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Who is the largest holder of that debt?
L. PAUL BREMER: The largest holders, and there are some imprecision as to exact amounts, are France, Russia, Germany and Japan.
KWAME HOLMAN: Iraq administrator Bremer returns to the witness table Wednesday before the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.