Monday, September 29, 2003

Seen from Baghdad, the debate now unfolding in the United States about whether to approve President Bush’s proposal to invest $20 billion in the future of a Free Iraq is utterly disconnected from reality on the ground there. The perspective offered by a just-completed trip to that city, Tikrit, Mosul and Babylon suggests the critics are not only oblivious to the considerable progress made to date in consolidating the liberation of that country.

Worse yet, by their petty parsimony, they risk squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do very well strategically by doing good.

Swift congressional approval of the requested funding can do much to transform Iraq, while affirming the greatness of a new generation of Americans — just as the Marshall Plan was a crowning achievement for what has been called “the Greatest Generation.”

It will build on — and powerfully reinforce — the extraordinary efforts made over the past four months by civilian administrators and particularly by intrepid military commanders, aimed at securing and rebuilding that long-suffering country. It is important to note that such progress is being made on a far more accelerated schedule than our fathers were able to effect in their post-World War II occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan.

Another interesting parallel should be borne in mind. Given the relatively backward condition of America’s infrastructure after the Second World War, it doubtless could have been argued this country’s development needs should take precedence over helping friends and former foes. Yet, the Greatest Generation understood that the sacrifice entailed in winning that war would be for naught if a further, financial sacrifice were not made to secure the peace in Europe and East Asia. This insight is, if anything, at least as true with respect to the Iraqi front in the current global War on Terror.

In particular, the executive and legislative branches should act with urgency on the replenishment and considerable expansion of what are called Commander’s Emergency Relief Funds (CERF). These are discretionary accounts that senior officers have been able to draw upon to lubricate the process of transforming Iraq. In talking with visitors, these commanders point with pride to the tangible effects investments of $100,000 here and there have made toward rebuilding critical bridges and highways, restoring power grids, restarting water and sewage treatment plants, reopening factories that provide desperately needed employment and refurbishing schools.

Until now, the CERFs have been drawn from frozen Iraqi assets, regime money caches and Saddam’s bank accounts seized in the course of liberating the country. As such sources now are nearly exhausted, military officers on the front lines of freedom face the prospect of being unable to help kick-start new projects or, worse yet, failing to complete some of those already under way. Should that happen, the confidence of the Iraqi people in American commitment, resolve and helpfulness that has been earned over the past four months could be squandered — playing into the hands of regime loyalists and foreign Islamists who want Free Iraq to die aborning.

The determination of our adversaries underscores the stakes here. What is at issue is not simply the future character of the government of Iraq. It is a question of whether we can help create a template for other Arab and/or Muslim nations that, if emulated, can produce a different sort of Middle East than any we have known to date. Denying today’s authoritarians and terrorists the success they seek in Iraq is no less important than was securing Germany, Japan and Western Europe for democracy a half-century ago.

Of course, Congress, with its power of the purse, has the right and the responsibility to oversee the use and efficiency of President Bush’s $20 billion request. Still, a protracted debate about every line item, with haggling about whether this or that amount requested for an indisputably worthy activity (for example, a witness protection program or small business training) are excessive would be counterproductive — possibly catastrophically so.

Congressional Democrats in particular should be careful as they seek to make a distinction between the $66 billion sought to underwrite military operations and the $20 billion for reconstruction. Our service personnel in Iraq are under no illusion: Both of these requests are, in fact, necessary to “support the troops” — the former as they fight the war on terror, the latter no less so as they work to secure the peace.

Like postwar Germany, Japan, France, Italy and Great Britain — principal beneficiaries of the Greatest Generation’s largess — Iraq has the potential to be an enormously prosperous and stable friend of the United States. Even a short visit unfailing impresses one with the country’s human and natural resources. An investment in that future is not only prudent. It will be tangible evidence of the present American generation’s ability to undertake great things — and to see them through to completion.

As with the late 1940s, such an expression of resolve and magnanimity in our own time may prove to be the key not only to the securing of a Free Iraq, but a decisive factor in making the world safer for democracy in the decades to come.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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