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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

September 05, 2003

The Growing Cost of America's International Arrogance

After a dismal summer of watching the situation in Iraq spiral from bad to worse, the White House appears to have finally acknowledged what many of us have understood from the beginning: it is going to take huge amounts of money, a long term commitment, and substantial help from the international community to restore order to Iraq.

After stiff-arming the United Nations over its refusal to rubber stamp the Administration's war plans for Iraq, and alienating some of our staunchest allies in the process, the White House has finally acquiesced to seeking a new resolution that potentially would give the United Nations the "vital role" in post-war Iraq that the President once pledged. I only hope this change of heart is not a lesson too late for the learning. The United States has squandered on Iraq so much of the international good will that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks that it may be impossible to regain all the ground that has been lost.

It is particularly ironic that the Administration's decision to seek a new resolution to win international support from the United Nations comes almost exactly one year after the President sternly warned that body that it faced becoming irrelevant if it failed to support the United States on Iraq. How far off the mark that assessment turned out to be! Instead of being irrelevant, the United Nations has emerged as America's best and possibly only hope to win desperately needed international support for the post-war mission in Iraq.

It is equally ironic that the Administration is seeking an estimated $60 billion to $70 billion in additional funding for Iraq from the American taxpayers at a time when the Senate is debating adding a fraction of that amount to an appropriations bill to provide critical funding funding the President himself pledged to provide in his No Child Left Behind initiative for schoolchildren in poor school districts.

Earlier this week, I offered an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill that would add $6.1 billion for Title I education programs to fully fund the money Congress authorized for fiscal year 2004 in the No Child Left Behind Act. This is money that Congress promised to provide, and it is money that our schools desperately need. Unfortunately, I fear I am fighting an uphill battle to win passage of my amendment. Opponents of the amendment have already staked out their positions, complaining that we can't afford the additional funding, that the amendment will add $6 billion to the deficit, and that we are already doing plenty for education.

I don't buy any of those arguments, and I wonder how the Senators who object to the cost of my amendment will view the President's request to add $60 billion or $65 billion or $70 billion to the deficit to fund military and reconstruction activities in Iraq. I wonder if they will be comfortable voting to support a massive spending program for Iraq if they cannot bring themselves to support a comparatively meager increase in education funding for American schoolchildren.

Mr. President, I intend to speak at greater length on my education amendment at a later time, but I urge my colleagues to begin reflecting on what kind of signal we will be sending to American families if we shortchange education funding by $6 billion one day and approve 10 times that amount for Iraq the next.

And make no mistake about it, Congress has little choice but to provide some level of additional funding for military and reconstruction activities in Iraq. We bulldozed our way into that country almost single-handedly over the objections of most of the international community, and now we are paying the price for our arrogance. With the exception of the help we have received from the British government, we have gotten almost no monetary assistance and precious little military assistance from other nations to assist with our operations in Iraq.

According to polls released by the Pew Research Center on March 18, 2003, the day before the war began, opposition to a war in Iraq was at 69 percent in Germany, 75 percent in France, 86 percent in Turkey, and 87 percent in Russia. Yet the White House scoffed at this opposition and belittled the need to unify the world in confronting Saddam Hussein. Could it be that we are now paying the price for the Administration's bullheaded rush to war without the broad and active support of the international community?

We have, perhaps, a chance to mend fences and garner more support from the United Nations if the Administration can swallow its pride and come up with a new resolution that cedes a meaningful role in the reconstruction of Iraq to the international community. Perhaps we also have a chance to attract serious monetary contributions from the international community, but I doubt that we will begin to approach the level of support that we received from other nations during the first Gulf War.

Nevertheless, we must keep trying, and returning to the United Nations is an important, if long overdue, first step.

Moreover, Congress and the American people must insist on a full accounting from the Administration of the dollars it is requesting for Iraq. The fact that we are faced with staggering demands in Iraq does not mean that Congress should feel compelled to hand the Administration a blank check. A lack of careful planning on the part of the Administration for post-war Iraq helped get us into our current difficulties, and we cannot afford to repeat our mistakes.

Just five months ago, Congress provided $78.5 billion in funds for military and reconstruction activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we are learning that we will need far more money for Iraq far sooner than the Administration either anticipated or admitted. We need to demand the details before we approve any more money for Iraq. We should require the President to submit a detailed budget request for the $60 billion to $70 billion he is seeking in supplemental funding for Iraq, and the Appropriations Committee should hold hearings on that request. We could not get straight answers from the Administration on the expected cost or duration of the Iraq operations the first time around. We cannot afford to settle for evasions this time around.

The supplemental funding request that the President is expected to send to Congress in the next few weeks gives us an opportunity to demand answers to some of the most pressing questions involving our occupation of Iraq. What is our post-war strategy for Iraq? What are we doing to improve the security situation in Baghdad and other key cities? What have we accomplished in terms of restoring electricity, drinking water, and other basic services to Iraqi citizens? What kind of timetable are we facing? Do we have any kind of exit strategy? Who is making the decisions?

By far, the greatest monetary cost in Iraq is the cost of the military occupation. Of the $60 billion to $70 billion that President is expected to request, all but $10 billion or so is earmarked for the Defense Department. The current cost of military operations in Iraq is $3.9 billion a month. With massive federal budget deficits staring us in the face, how long can we sustain that level of spending in Iraq? Do we have any realistic expectation that other countries will help to offset that cost, even if we manage to get another U.N. resolution? Who is going to help us in Iraq, and how will they help us?

These are extremely important questions, and Congress and the American people need to know the answers before committing even more resources to Iraq. Congress should put the White House on notice now that it will require a full explanation and a rigorous justification of the budget request before voting on it.

In the meantime, Congress has other pressing matters on its plate. Next week, the Senate will consider whether to fully fund a critical education program for our neediest schoolchildren. I hope that we will treat that issue, and my amendment, with the same sense of urgency and importance that the President expects us to treat the supplemental budget request for Iraq. There is no issue more important to the future of our country than the education of our children. On this issue especially I hope that the Senate will put aside any hint of partisanship and vote to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.

MORE by Senator Byrd

 
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