Power to the Purse
Few expect Congress to say No to President Bush’s $87 billion request for the war in Iraq that he said was over. Decent Americans don’t want to abandon the Iraqi people. But we should get more for our money than a guerilla war, and we should limit the risk of being misled into further, unnecessary conflicts. One way is for Congress to attach conditions to any funding:
- Fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz. They cried – and lied – the loudest for war. They promised an easy liberation and ridiculed experienced military brass’s warnings against underestimating the difficulties of war.
- Ditto for Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s portrayed as reasonable, but his February 5, 2003 speech to the UN Security Council has been exposed as lies by the Associated Press. (See "Charles J. Hanley, "Powell’s Battle Cry Fails Test of Time: Six months after his case swung opinion toward attacking Iraq, his intelligence file looks thin," August 10, 2003.)
- Eliminate the financial incentives certain Administration officials and their friends may have for advocating war. The Administration shovels cash to companies such as Halliburton Corp., which Vice President Cheney CEOed, to repair oil wells in Iraq, provide meals and deliver mail for troops, build bases in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Jordan and prisons in Guantanamo Bay. Such dealing calls into question whether the Administration’s hawkishness is based on patriotism or cronyism.
- Cancel President Bush’s tax cuts, which reward only the richest Americans. Must working people, whose children are dying in Iraq, also foot the bill?
- Support the troops: let them come home. They’re fighters, not nation builders. Their presence outrages many Iraqis and thus may pose the greatest obstacle to stability and democracy. Military costs far outweigh rebuilding costs in Bush’s request. More important than saving money is that our young men and women are in grave – and gathering – danger. How long until a massive car bomb cripples and kills hundreds?
- Retract the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy. The Administration’s claiming the right to invade other countries before they acquire nuclear weapons and scrapping weapons-reduction treaties could doom humanity to an atomic free-for-all. The "strategy" gives non-nuclear nations incentive to go nuclear, simply to avoid Iraq’s fate. The more nuclear weapons in circulation, the harder it will be to keep them from terrorists.
If we fail to clean our own house, the rest of the world may try. Much of humanity now views the U.S. under the Bush Administration as the greatest threat to peace. And there’s politics. Few forget how the Administration tried to humiliate the UN last year, threatening that the world body would be "irresponsible" and "irrelevant" if it "failed" to rubberstamp a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Of course, sweeping action by the UN is probably unlikely, given U.S. veto power. Other nations may well chip in. But imagine a "coalition of the willing" deciding to go ahead anyway to enforce the UN’s will, by adding the following conditions to those set forth above:
- The U.S. must pay the majority of rebuilding costs. Coalition countries could seize U.S. assets abroad and hold them in trust for the Iraqi people.
- No oil contracts, no rebuilding deals for U.S. companies. Nations should not profit from illegal wars of aggression.
- Demand "regime change." Foreign leaders could broadcast that they "have no quarrel with the American people," but that our dangerous, lawless leaders must go.
Such improvements are possible now that we hold the power of the purse.
BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Touro Law Center in Huntington, NY. He can be reached at BrianF@tourolaw.edu.