Free Ride

Whatever happened to Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule: “You break it, you buy it”?

Iraq’s Financial Free Ride May End


WASHINGTON (AP) — Iraq’s financial free ride may be over. After five years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have found common ground on at least one aspect of the war. From the fiercest war foes to the most steadfast Bush supporters, they are looking at Iraq’s surging oil income and saying Baghdad should start picking up the tab, particularly for rebuilding hospitals, roads, power lines and the rest of the shattered country.

“I think the American people are growing weary not only of the war, but they are looking at why Baghdad can’t pay more of these costs. And the answer is they can,” says Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Ben Nelson, of course, was one of the bright lights who voted to invade Iraq in the first place.

Nelson, a Democrat, is drafting legislation with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana that would restrict future reconstruction dollars to loans instead of grants.

So were Susan Collins and Evan Bayh.

Likewise, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he wants to add a provision to a defense policy bill that would force the Iraqi government to spend its own surplus in oil revenues to rebuild the country before U.S. dollars are spent.

These senators, who are well-known war skeptics, could find allies in lawmakers who support President Bush’s current Iraq policies. In hearings last week, Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates whether Baghdad should start paying some U.S. combat costs, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised the possibility that an anticipated Iraqi budget surplus this year could be used to help Afghanistan, whose $700 million in annual revenue represents a small fraction of Iraq’s $46.8 billion budget.

Levin voted against the Iraq AUMF, but calling Nelson and Collins “skeptics” is sort of like calling “surge” advocate Michael O’Hanlon a skeptic.

American troops in Iraq are buying fuel on the open market at $3.23 a gallon and spending some $153 million a month, according to a recent report by The Associated Press.

Collins says the Iraqis should cover those costs.

“It’s really difficult for Americans who are struggling with the high cost of the energy to see us paying for fuel costs in a country that has the second-largest oil reserves” and a burgeoning budget surplus, she said.

So, we invade a country for no reason (or on trumped-up reasons, take your pick), blow its fragile infrastructure to smithereens, let people suffer with little electricity (“the energy”) or running water and streets full of sewage for five years, then we expect them to pay for the damage we unleashed. Oh, and we’re going to charge them for the costs of occupying their country which we’re not going to leave any time soon (and when 79% of Iraqis in a recent poll answered “not much” or “none” when asked how about their confidence level in US forces), and we might even skim some off to pay for this other little war we’ve got going on in an entirely unrelated country.

That should make everyone happy.