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Anti-war Rhetoric: A Work In Progress

By Jon Kyl

Writing for the Weekly Standard, American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan recently examined how anti-war leaders have been forced to change their rhetoric in response to the continuing stream of positive developments in Iraq. Kagan correctly observed that the initial criticisms - "the surge has failed, Iraqis will never reconcile, Iraqi troops won't fight, violence won't fall or, if it does, it won't stay down - have fallen by the wayside as they have been visibly disproven one by one."

So now, anti-war leaders have developed a new set of arguments: "the war costs too much, America's economy is in trouble, Iraq is an oil-rich nation." Others say, "Iraqis are not paying their share," and "that we are spending money in Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis rather than Americans."

What are the facts?

Kagan concluded that each of these claims "proceeds from assumptions that are false," noting that U.S. foreign assistance to Iraq has declined nearly 93 percent - from $16.3 billion in 2004 to $1.2 billion in 2008 - while the amount the Iraqis have committed for reconstruction has increased more than 300 percent - from $3.2 billion to $13.1 billion. The Iraqis are now spending more than four-and-a-half times what they spent in 2004 on their security forces - $9 billion compared to $1.6 billion in 2004 - while the U.S. has cut its commitment by nearly half - from $5 billion in 2004 to $3 billion today.

This, of course, was the goal - to transfer authority and responsibility to the Iraqis when they could handle it. Recognizing this, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation last week that would codify current policy that precludes the U.S. from paying for most large-scale reconstruction projects and require negotiations to ensure that the Iraqis continue to bear a greater share of security and energy costs. The White House and the Pentagon support the proposal, and so should the full Senate.

And it's not as if we have to force the Iraqis to pay more. The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and General David Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Forces, both testified recently to the significant progress the Iraqis are making to meet their obligations.

Nevertheless, some lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are calling for overly restrictive and harmful language to be considered when the defense authorization bill is considered by the Senate later this month. Some are even threatening to hold up critical troop-funding legislation, which is already 15 months overdue, to push punitive and inflexible reconstruction funding restrictions.

It's one thing to ensure that the Iraqis continue to shoulder more of the burden; it's quite another to punish our troops if Iraq falters in its efforts. And we must never make it appear as if we went into Iraq for its oil.

One proposal, for example, would require the Iraqis to pay the U.S. military's fuel expenses. But, our troops are not mercenaries, and we should not make U.S. military operations and security interests contingent upon others footing the bill. We also need to understand how such a proposal would play into the propaganda spread by radical terrorists, including al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has already appealed to terrorists to "concentrate their campaigns on the Muslims' stolen oil, most of whose revenues go to the enemies of Islam."

General Petraeus and other military leaders have "repeatedly said that in this war dollars are the best bullets." Spending U.S. dollars to help the Iraqi government defeat the terrorists - whether for training and assistance for Iraqi forces or for projects that strengthen the democratically elected government - is obviously preferable to putting American troops in harm's way.

The Iraqi government must continue to pay what it can (and that is increasing every year), but our ultimate goal should not merely be to shift costs. Our goal should be to do what is necessary to defeat the terrorists there and deny them a safe haven to launch attacks against the U.S., our allies, and our interests around the world.

Sen. Kyl serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees and chairs the Senate Republican Conference. Visit his website at

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