We Afford to Occupy Iraq?
The recent bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq has refocused the worldís attention on the dangerous situation in that nation. The Bush administration is now softening its position against UN involvement, and is considering the use of UN military forces to serve as an international peacekeeping coalition in Iraq.
We should not expect any international coalition to help us pay the bills for occupying Iraq, however. American taxpayers alone will bear the tremendous financial burden of nation building in Iraq. We are already spending about 5 billion dollars in Iraq every month, a number likely to increase as the ongoing instability makes it clear that more troops and aid are needed. We will certainly spend far more than the 65 billion dollars originally called for by the administration to prosecute the war. The possibility of spending hundreds of billions in Iraq over several years is very real. This is money we simply donít have, as evidenced by the governmentís deficit spending- borrowing- to finance the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq to date.
easy for politicians to say, ďWe will spend whatever it takes to rebuild
Iraq,Ē but itís not their money. Occupying
Iraq is not a matter of noble national resolve like World War II.
The cost of restoring order will be enormous, and we need to carefully
weigh the supposed benefits and ask ourselves exactly what we hope to get for
our money. I doubt many Americans believe Iraq is worth bankrupting our
nation or saddling future generations with billions more in debt.
American public deserves clear goals and a definite exit strategy in Iraq.
Itís not enough for our political and military leaders to make vague
references to some future time when democratic rule and a civil society somehow
will emerge in Iraq. Itís patently unrealistic to expect that nationís various
warring factions to suddenly embrace representative democracy and accept the
outcome of a western-style vote. Even
if open elections could be held, the majority might well choose an anti-American
fundamentalist regime. This puts
Washington in a Catch 22: The U.S. clearly will influence the creation of a new
Iraqi government to ensure it is friendly to America, yet the perception that we
installed the government will create further hostility toward America.
There obviously are no easy solutions to the dilemmas we face in Iraq,
and the complexity of the political and social realities begs the question: How
do we ever hope to get out? If real stability and democratic rule simply cannot be
attained in Iraq, are we prepared to occupy it for decades to come?
Korean conflict should serve as a cautionary tale against the open-ended
military occupation of any region. Human tragedy aside, we have spent half a century and more
than one trillion of todayís dollars in Korea.
What do we have to show for it? North
Korea is a belligerent adversary armed with nuclear technology, while South
Korea is at best ambivalent about our role as their protector.
The stalemate stretches on with no end in sight, while the grandchildren
and great-grandchildren of the brave men who fought in Korea continue to serve
there. Although the situation in
Iraq is different, the lesson learned in Korea is clear.
We must not allow our nation to become entangled in another endless,
intractable, overseas conflict. We
literally cannot afford to have the occupation of Iraq stretch on for years.