As Congress debates President Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq, Sen. George Voinovich is offering his colleagues a little history lesson:
"At the end of World War II, we decided that for the betterment of the world and for our children's and grandchildren's sakes, we would invest substantial money in the reconstruction of Japan and Germany," the Ohio Republican said Wednesday. "Today, Japan is an ally ... There is a strong Europe with robust democracies. We have changed those parts of the world for the better."
That applies to Iraq, which "could end up being one of the best allies we have in that part of the world. If we get out of there now, we will have missed an opportunity we will not get again. We will rue that day."
That's why Voinovich backs the package, including the $21 billion for rebuilding that's drawing fire from Democrats and a few Republicans.
The infrastructure money makes sense. It will help stabilize Iraq and make it safer for our soldiers. But beyond that, it's the right thing to do - and other nations have a duty to join in the effort. Voinovich introduced an amendment urging the White House to seek broad international funding for Iraq - and requiring it to report on its coalition-building progress in 120 days. He also called on other nations to forgive loans Iraq owes. That may be a moot point, because a new Iraqi government likely will refuse to recognize the Saddam regime's debts.
That's also why Voinovich opposes some senators' calls to make the $21 billion in aid a loan. "If we did that, it would be very, very awkward for us to call on other countries to forgive loans," he said. "Besides, the chances of it being paid back are remote."
Congress will decide on Bush's proposal later this month. The $66 billion for military operations will be approved easily. The $21 billion is a tougher sell - and a flashpoint for partisan rancor over the war itself. But it serves America's long-term interests; an unstable Iraq could bring peril.
But Congress can't just write a fat check. America must insist that other nations, particularly in that region, play an immediate role in the reconstruction. The sooner Iraq gets its government in order and its economy cranked up, the sooner it can use its own strengths in oil and agriculture to take over its own rebuilding.
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