- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Bush administration proposes spending another $87 billion ($20 billion for Iraq reconstruction) on top of what has already been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, this country should be calling on Iraq and the rest of the oil-producing states to rebuild those nations. Freedom costs, but it should not just cost the United States. Those who benefit most from freedom should pay part of the bill.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Iraq has 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the third-largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Canada). Only 10 percent of the country has been explored, and only 17 of 80 discovered oil fields have been developed. The money for rebuilding Iraq can be found underground there and not in the pockets of overburdened American taxpayers.

One of the complications involves contracts the deposed Saddam Hussein regime signed with foreign oil companies, mainly from China, France and Russia. Russia alone is owed billions of dollars by Iraq for past arms deliveries, and this is a major reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to U.S. policy. But if the Russians (and the French and Chinese) won’t contribute to the restoration of Iraq, those contracts should be canceled.

The Financial Times reported Sept. 25 that the European Commission is expected to contribute a paltry $230 million to the rebuilding effort in Iraq. This is like telling Exxon you’re only going to pay $1 on your $200 credit card bill. If Europe and the rest of Iraq’s creditors won’t pitch in with reconstruction, they don’t deserve to profit from Iraqi oil.

In Washington, bipartisan opposition is developing over the United States footing the entire cost. Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, suggested giving Iraq a long-term, interest-free loan. “That would sit well with the American people,” he said.

What would sit better is a pay-as-Iraq-goes plan. Having the United States pay for reconstruction and infrastructure while we continue to buy oil at ever-increasing prices (OPEC last week announced it is reducing output quotas by 31/2 percent, which immediately drove up pump prices) is making us pay twice.

Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, asked, “How do I explain to my constituents that those who helped to prop up Saddam’s regime — the French, the Russians and others — could potentially be repaid, but those who financed the war to liberate the Iraqi people will not be repaid?” Good question.

Since the Arab oil boycott 30 years ago, there has been talk by Democratic and Republican administrations about doing something to make America less dependent on foreign oil producers. Has there ever been a better time for liberation than now? Wouldn’t the public warm to a campaign to free us from the dictates of despots who influence our foreign policy and domestic politics based on how “generous” or stingy they are with their oil spigots? “Let them eat sand” would be a nice battle cry.

Were it not for their oil, we wouldn’t care about their repressive societies. There are enough oil reserves in the West (Alaska and Canada come to mind) to supply our energy needs as we look for alternative sources and simultaneously work to liberate ourselves from the oil companies that would like our petroleum addiction to continue. I would be willing to drive an energy-efficient hybrid car if I thought it would starve a dictator.

Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, and Vice President Dick Cheney, along with other administration officials, have reportedly pressured Republicans to give the idea of putting reconstruction funds in the form of loans repayable from Iraq’s vast oil reserves. But why, unless it is to protect countries that had contracts with Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but haven’t done us any favors lately?

The nations primarily responsible for the enormous wealth in the oil-producing Middle East states are the United States, the Europe states and Japan. The oil-producing states would have no substantial income and their dictators would be riding on bikes and not in Mercedes were it not for our money.

Let’s use Iraqi oil to pay the bills. There will be plenty left in the ground to fuel Iraq’s economy for years to come. Why should the Iraqis complain? It’s their freedom we bought. Let them help pay for it.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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