The revelation that Iraq’s government may enjoy a $79 billion surplus by the end of the year, while the U.S. government expects a $482 billion deficit, is a classic good news, bad news development. Iraq’s financial stability is evidence the fledgling government and economy are on the right track. But the surplus, which is attributed mostly to the rise in the price of oil, stands in stark contrast to the fact that the U.S. will have spent by the end of the year about $800 billion on the Iraq project. It also has the assessments of pro-invasion voices echoing in the ears of war critics.
While he was deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, a key advocate for the invasion, told the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2003: “There is a lot of money to pay for [the war] that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people. We are talking about a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.” Another architect of the war, Richard Perle, said on July 11, 2002: “Iraq is a very wealthy country. Enormous oil reserves. They can … largely finance the reconstruction of their own country. And I have no doubt they will.” And finally, Vice President Dick Cheney just days before the invasion: “In Iraq you’ve got a nation that’s got the second-largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. It will generate billions of dollars a year in cash flow if they get back to their production of roughly 3 million barrels of oil a day, in the relatively near future. And that flow of resources, obviously, belongs to the Iraqi people, needs to be put to use by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and that will be one of our major objectives.”
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, since the invasion, the U.S. has spent $23 billion on Iraqi security and infrastructure for oil, electricity and water. Over the last 2 1/2 years, the Iraq government has spent less than $4 billion on similar work. Clearly, Iraq’s investment must rise and the U.S. contribution must drop.
In April, Sen. Susan Collins and two other senators wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other administration officials asking for such a reversal. “The time has come to end this blank-check policy and require the Iraqis to invest in their own future,” the letter said. Four months later, the GAO has confirmed that pressure must be brought to bear on the Iraqis.
In recent months, the administration has been pressuring the Iraqis to sign an agreement that would, among other things, allow 50 U.S. military bases to be established in the country. So far, Iraq has refused to sign the deal. The U.S. could drop that bid in exchange for Iraq paying significantly more of reconstruction costs. Such a deal would give the Bush administration a rare win in its waning days in office.