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Paying for the War

Dollars are the best bullets.

12:00 AM, Apr 24, 2008 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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Congress can appropriately

* Insist that Iraq continue to improve its budget execution and prioritize spending its surplus on its own reconstruction and the development of its own armed forces;

* Recognize the reality that the United States is no longer in the business of building Iraqi infrastructure or otherwise "reconstructing" Iraq on a large scale;

* Declare its expectation that Iraq will fully fund its own military and reconstruction programs from 2008 on; and

* Request that Iraq continue to contribute its own money to the CERP program.

Congress must not

* Cut off or reduce CERP funding, support for capacity-building efforts, or security assistance funding for this year;

* Levy any claims whatsoever on Iraq's wealth--Iraq is a sovereign state with which the United States is allied in a fight against mutual enemies. We can ask that Iraq share the expense of that fight with us, as we do with many allies, but we cannot demand it (as we do not demand it of any of our allies);

* Demand or even ask Iraq to pay any portion of the cost of maintaining American soldiers in Iraq. Any such request will be portrayed throughout the Muslim world as an American demand that Iraq pay for its own occupation, that America really is an imperial power determined to wrest Iraq's oil wealth from it, and that this really was a war for oil all along. The truth is that Congress spends more money on useless pork than it is ever likely to recoup from Iraq with such demands, but even recouping billions of dollars would not begin to cover the cost of so damaging America's image in the world.

As has become unfortunately common, the antiwar party has turned a fairly simple problem into a complex and confusing equation. Either America has interests in defeating al Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then we should not have any troops in Iraq and we should not be spending money there. If it does, and we have already made the decision to sacrifice the lives of the best of Americans in the effort, then we owe it to them to give them the tools they need to succeed. If Congress wants to "end the war," then let it debate and vote on that. If it doesn't--or can't--then it is time to stop playing games and fund our soldiers.

Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Iraq: The Way Ahead," the Iraq Planning Group's phase IV report.