Cal  Thomas

The Bush administration is proposing to spend another $87 billion ($20 billion for Iraq reconstruction) on top of what has already been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, this country should be calling on Iraq and the rest of the oil-producing states to rebuild those nations. Freedom costs, but it should not just cost the United States. Those who benefit most from freedom should pay part of the bill.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Iraq has 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Canada). Only 10 percent of the country has been explored, and only 17 of 80 discovered oil fields have been developed. The money for rebuilding Iraq can be found underground there and not in the pockets of overburdened American taxpayers.

One of the complications involves contracts that the deposed Saddam Hussein regime signed with foreign oil companies, mainly from China, France and Russia. Russia alone is owed billions of dollars by Iraq for past arms deliveries, and this is a major reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin's opposition to U.S. policy. But if the Russians (and the French and Chinese) won't contribute to the restoration of Iraq, those contracts should be canceled. The Financial Times reports (Sept. 25) that the European Commission is expected to contribute a paltry $230 million to the rebuilding effort in Iraq. This is like telling Exxon you're only going to pay $1 on your $200 credit card bill. If Europe and the rest of Iraq's creditors won't pitch in with reconstruction, they don't deserve to profit from Iraqi oil.

In Washington, bipartisan opposition is developing over the United States footing the entire cost. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) suggested giving Iraq a long-term, interest-free loan. "That would sit well with the American people," he said. What would sit better is a pay-as-Iraq-goes plan. Having the United States pay for reconstruction and infrastructure while we continue to buy oil at ever-increasing prices (OPEC last week announced it is reducing output quotas by 3.5 percent, which immediately drove up pump prices) is making us pay twice. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said, "How do I explain to my constituents that those who helped to prop up Saddam's regime - the French, the Russians and others - could potentially be repaid, but those who financed the war to liberate the Iraqi people will not be repaid?" Good question.

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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