Iraq should pay its own way

Posted: Oct 06, 2003 12:00 AM

At a Senate hearing to consider the Bush administration request for an $87 billion to pay for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, the news emerged that up to $20.3 billion of that sum is allocated, not to pay for the war or to benefit U.S. troops, but to build Iraq into a modern country with water and sewer systems, power grids, roads, bridges, schools, post offices, prisons and even 3,000 housing units.

Some senators asked the obvious question: Because Iraq has second-largest known oil reserves in the world, why can't the Iraqis pay for its own reconstruction, as the administration promised before the war?

President Bush's representative, L. Paul Bremer III, then let the cat out of the bag. Iraq can't finance its own reconstruction, he said, because it has a debt of $200 billion and therefore can't borrow against future oil profits. Of that $200 billion, more than half is commercial debt owed mainly to France, Russia and Germany, and the rest is war reparations owed mainly to Kuwait from the first Gulf War.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans have been reassured that the United States is the world's only superpower. Now we find that some mysterious international authority is imposing on Americans a taxation without representation.

This anonymous authority tells us through Bremer that U.S. citizens must tax themselves to rebuild the infrastructure of a country on the other side of the world. We are told we must respect the prior right of our non-friends in Europe to cash in on the oil that will soon start flowing from the country our troops and treasure liberated.

Then we hear that $20.3 billion is just the start of the burden. Bremer said on CNBC's Capital Report that the ultimate costs to rebuild Iraq will be "probably well above $50 billion, $60 billion, maybe $100 billion."

If this is true, then we can't be the world's only superpower; we are the vassal of a master we did not elect and do not want. What foreign authority can issue orders to the United States?

Bremer, who learned his foreign-affairs chutzpa during 11 years as managing director of Kissinger Associates Inc., cut off senatorial interrogation by asserting international law. But international law is a fiction; no legislature passed any such law and no court can enforce it.

Respecting the debts of a defunct dictator is only a custom, and that custom should be overruled by the Doctrine of Odious Debts, i.e., that a country is not responsible for a despotic regime's debts that were used for purposes contrary to the interests of the nation. The United States used this doctrine after the Spanish-American War to cancel Cuba's debts to Spain, and it should be used today because there is no justification in requiring either the Iraqi people or U.S. taxpayers to pay for Saddam's profligacy.

Repudiating Saddam's debt would teach the world an important lesson. Countries that support tyrants like Saddam with loans and investments should lose their money when the regime goes belly-up.

The Democrats, who never saw a spending proposal they didn't like (except for abstinence education), see in the administration's request for $20.3 billion to build Iraqi infrastructure a tantalizing opportunity to increase domestic spending.

The administration proposes to send $3.7 billion to build a water and sewer system in Iraq, but only $1.8 billion on Environmental Protection Agency programs to improve U.S. water and sewer systems. Obviously, according to Democratic political logic, we should double or triple our spending on U.S. projects - not cut foreign aid.

Sniped Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., "It is mind-boggling that the president can recognize the importance of water infrastructure needs in Iraq but is blind to our needs here at home."

What is really mind-boggling is the notion that anyone can seriously propose taxing U.S. citizens to

build a water and sewer system for a rich foreign country that tolerated a dictator who spent his country's oil profits on lavish palaces instead of on necessities.

Americans have already paid an enormous cost for this war in Iraq. With so many Americans out of work, it is insulting for Bremer to demand that U.S. taxpayers pay up to $100 billion more to rebuild a country that has ample natural resources.

France, Russia and Germany should consider themselves lucky if they are simply able to write off all their investments and loans to Saddam as bad business deals with a con man who went bankrupt.

Because their money, flowing to Iraq, significantly helped to maintain that evil dictator, France, Russia and Germany, not the United States, should be called on to pay for rebuilding the country.