A Wise Investment is Worth the Price

Posted: Sep 13, 2003 12:00 AM

 The war against terrorism will be long and expensive. And President Bush has put an exact price tag on at least one aspect of it. He says it will cost $87 billion over the next year to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some were shocked at that amount. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., told CNN, “There’s no possible way that we can pay those costs in Iraq.”  Well, $87 billion is a lot. But if the president’s plan works, this is an investment that will be well worth the cost.

As Bush put it, his goal is “helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads and medical clinics.”

Accomplishing those tasks is critical to maintaining our homeland security.

Afghanistan served as the base of operations for the Sept. 11 terrorists. Iraq was a safe haven for many terrorists, including Abu Nidal, and Saddam Hussein encouraged violence by paying off the families of Palestinian homicide bombers.

We’ve already deposed two evil governments that supported terrorism. Now, if we can rebuild those countries and create peaceful, democratic governments, we’ll have given the rest of the world a model to follow.

Plus, we’ll have shown other governments what happens when they support terrorism: They get deposed and replaced. That means Iran, Libya, Syria and others will be less likely to allow terrorists to operate freely.

Those advances will come at a price, though. The $87 billion investment Bush wants will be spent in a time of growing budget deficits and an uncertain economy. This is probably the first big sacrifice the president has called for in the two years since Sept. 11. But the call for shared sacrifice wasn’t enough to satisfy Bush’s critics.

As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times on Sept. 10, “the money … provides a clear test case. If Bush had admitted from the start that the postwar occupation might cost this much, he would never have gotten that last tax cut. Now he says, ‘We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary.’ What does he mean, ‘we’? Is he prepared to roll back some of those tax cuts, now that the costs of war loom so large? Is he even willing to stop urging Congress to make the 2001 tax cut permanent? Of course not.”

But it’s not: “Either a tax cut or $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.” We can have both.

Consider some of the other spending measures passed since Sept. 11:

· $180 billion for an unnecessary farm bill.

· $22.5 billion to increase the federal government’s role in education -- a 49 percent jump in spending since the year 2000.

· $400 billion for a Medicare prescription drug benefit (this proposal is before a House-Senate conference committee).

· A 4.1 percent raise for all federal employees (the administration had requested only 2.2 percent for civilian employees) and a 2.2 percent pay raise for members of Congress.

Clearly, there are plenty of places we could reduce spending if we wanted to, and we’d still have enough left over to invest in Iraq and make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. And the investment in Iraq is especially important, because the war on terrorism is one we can’t afford to lose.

If another terrorist incident like Sept. 11 occurs, the likely economic damage is estimated at $480 billion. So the $87 billion, if it helps prevent another attack, would be paying big dividends.

Now, consider what we’ve spent on a different “war,” the war on poverty that started in the 1960s. Through 2002, federal and state governments have spent $9.1 trillion on means-tested welfare payments.

Virtually all of that money was wasted, because it did little more than foster dependence and encourage single parenthood, two outcomes that are universally bad for society. If we can afford to throw that much money away over that many years, surely we can afford an investment that may well make us all safer in years to come.

$87 billion is a lot of money, and, sadly, it’s only the start. We’ll have to be ready to spend tens of billions of more, across many years, to win the war against terrorism. But -- when we’ve won the war -- we’ll look back and realize the investment was well worth the cost.