Sunday, October 5, 2003

This week, the Senate will continue consideration of the administration’s emergency supplemental request for the war on terrorism, including necessary and vital funding for ongoing military operations and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following lengthy hearings all last week with witnesses from the front lines of this war — including the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, and the administrator of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer — it is clear that it is in America’s security interest for Congress to act quickly and decisively in considering and passing the emergency spending bill. The lives of our soldiers in the field depend upon it.

Some senators want to provide only funds requested for military operations in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the continuing war on global terrorism. Reconstruction funds for Iraq, they argue, are not for our uniformed services and should be delayed until Congress determines our nation’s role in Iraq. In fact, support for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is directly linked to reconstruction efforts. They go hand-in-hand. It is as simple as this: Operational funds keep our soldiers in the field; reconstruction funds will bring them home sooner. The quicker functioning governments and indigenous armed forces and police are in place, the sooner our men and women can be reunited with their families.

While increasing security, electric capacity and democracy will temper extremism that breeds in places of lawlessness and repression, the United States’ objective in Iraq is not to create a replica of itself in the sands of the Middle East. Nor is it to enter a long period of occupation in a resource-rich country that has been brutally mismanaged by a madman on par with Hitler. Having liberated the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein in less than a month, America’s objective is now to help the Iraqi people help themselves as they create a government rooted in freedom and the rule of law. This is an opportunity Iraqis could only dream of six short months ago.

The funding in the emergency spending bill will jump-start Iraq’s long road to recovery. As infrastructure is rebuilt and begins to function effectively, and as more oil comes online, the need for our support will diminish. It is counterproductive to saddle the Iraqi people with debt from loans for infrastructure rebuilding, as some advocate. The transitional Iraqi Governing Council is in no position to acquire debt, and Iraq’s dubious creditworthiness is a major impediment for lenders who will attend a donors conference in Madrid, Spain later this month.

The Coalition’s reconstruction efforts in Iraq are a bold approach to aiding a nation’s recovery from decades of repression and abuse. Working in tandem, military and civilian professionals are providing the Iraqi people with the tools to rebuild their country and reshape their futures. We do not need to wait with an occupation force for three or four years as we did in Germany and Japan. Iraq is well-poised for a successful recovery,witheducated technocrats, abundant natural resources and the popular desire to live in freedom from fear. We must act now, before we face the necessity to increase force levels in Iraq.

Reconstruction is not without risk, but the rewards promise to be great. From combating terrorism to promoting tolerance, a stable and democratic Iraq is in the interests of the people of that country, the United States and our regional allies. Some here in the Senate already pronounce reconstruction efforts a failure. But, they offer no viable alternatives. Should we withdraw American forces from Iraq, Saddam loyalists and foreign jihadists from Syria, Lebanon and Iran would immediately fill the void. The number of terrorists in-country would swell quickly, and Iraq would continue to sponsor terrorism as a nation. Our shores will be far less safe if Iraq does not continue on the road to freedom and anti-terrorism.

Can we delay or deny reconstruction funds? If we did, American troops would become long-term occupiers and big-time targets. More soldiers would be needed to control an increasingly frustrated population denied regular security, electricity and potable water. Transfer operational control to the United Nations? While the U.N. and other international organizations have a further role in Iraq, especially by contributing to reconstruction efforts, a unified command under America’s leadership is the key to transitioning Iraq now to a stable government. Our military men and women have made great sacrifices to liberate the Iraqi people. Losing crucial momentum that exists in Baghdad today by delaying these efforts risks creating greater sacrifices — including sending more troops to Iraq and paying increased costs for a long period of occupation. There is only one winning strategy in Iraq, and that is to finish the job we started. To do so, Congress must pass the emergency supplemental spending bill as soon as possible.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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