- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The vote on the aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan was one of the most significant foreign aid votes in history, ranking up there with the 1941 vote on Lend-Lease for Britain, and the 1948 vote on the Marshall Plan.

Had Congress not approved President Roosevelt’s plan to give to Britain 50 obsolete American destroyers, the Battle of the Atlantic, and with it, World War II, might well have been lost.

Had Congress not approved President Truman’s plan for rebuilding Europe (named after his secretary of state, George Marshall), the Cold War might well have been lost.

If Congress does not approve President Bush’s plan for reconstructing Iraq, the war on terror could well be lost.

Aid to Iraq is consistent with historic American generosity. But aid to Iraq is manifestly in our self-interest. To win the war on terror, we must not only swat the mosquitos (hunt down and kill the terrorists), we must drain the swamp. The dysfunctional societies of the Middle East will continue to breed terrorists unless Muslims can be shown a better way. A peaceful, democratic Iraq could transform the entire region. The task is difficult.

But it is less difficult than was reconstructing Europe, and like the Marshall Plan, the rewards for success — and the penalties for failure — are enormous.

The margins on final passage for the Iraq aid package — 303 to 125 in the House, 87-12 in the Senate — were comforting. What was disquieting was that three of the Democratic candidates for president were among the “no” votes.

The key vote in the Senate was on an amendment by Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, to convert half of the $20 billion proposed for reconstruction aid from a grant to a loan. On this vote Democrats — with help from eight myopic Republicans — prevailed, 51 to 47. The measure now goes to conference with the House, which passed the president’s plan intact. The conference report likely will be voted on Friday, so congressional action can be completed before the donors’ conference meets in Madrid next Monday.

President Bush wants the entire $20 billion to be a grant, in order to loosen the pockets of the nations attending the donors’ conference (why should they give to Iraq if the U.S. doesn’t?); to prevent a fledgling democracy in Iraq from being crippled with yet more debt (Saddam Hussein racked up a huge bill from France, Russia and Germany to fund his weapons programs), and to prevent America’s enemies from claiming it was “all about oil” after all.

For these reasons, the Bayh amendment is shortsighted, but not inherently unreasonable. If the conference committee raises the portion that would be a grant, and eases the terms by which the loan could be converted to a grant, it would be a satisfactory compromise. (The Marshall Plan was 89 percent grant, 11 percent loan.)

What is appalling is that even after Democrats won on the Bayh amendment, Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, and 10 others voted against the entire package, most of which goes to fund U.S. troops. Had their viewpoint prevailed, the U.S. would be forced to leave Iraq precipitously, creating the “chaos” many have falsely claimed exists there. They would be stomping on the graves of all the American soldiers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lawmakers often have been shortsighted. (There were 17 votes in the Senate against the Marshall Plan, 31 against Lend Lease.) But never before in American history have presidential contenders been so willing to sabotage the security of their country for short-term political advantage.

The Democratic candidates often seem to be running more for president of France than for president of the United States. But on this vote, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry managed to be more anti-American than the French, the Germans, the Russians, even the Syrians, all of whom voted in the U.N. Security Council to endorse the U.S./U.K. presence in Iraq.

These senators’ votes are all the more deplorable because both had voted to authorize the war in the first place. But now, apparently, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry would engineer American defeat in order to prevent Bush from getting credit for American victory.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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