Strange Bedfellows
Published on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 by
Strange Bedfellows
by Karen Dolan

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. . .

Progressives and liberals who have been fearing the onset of an Orwellian nightmare have a new paradox to chew on: Bush is Correct.

Or at least a little more correct than the Democrats, who are making a wrong-headed effort to make half of the $20 billion request by the Bush Administration for reconstructing Iraq into a loan which would be repaid from Iraqi oil revenues. (This $20 billion is part of the more widely discussed $87 billion, but of that figure, $67 billion is for the Pentagon, not putting Iraq back in order.)

Bush insists that the entire amount be a grant, which is in keeping with both international law and common sense. Under the Geneva Conventions, the occupying power has the responsibility to provide for the needs of the occupied population. This responsibility is clearly that of our government alone: the war was waged without international approval, and the occupation remains under U.S. control. The invasion destroyed Iraq’s whole governing apparatus (not just Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party) and so this $20 billion and whatever else it takes to restore Iraq, and for that matter, Afghanistan, should come, unencumbered, from the United States.

But while the Democrats’ approach is faulty, their reasons are very good; it pains them, and rightfully so, to allocate millions for health care, garbage trucks, and road and bridge construction in Iraq at a time when American infrastructure is crumbling. U.S. firehouses have recently been forced to shut down; public hospitals have closed doors across the country due to lack of funds; 44 million Americans are uninsured; poverty has increased for the second consecutive year; wages for low-paid workers have gone down in 2003, state college tuition is up 13% this year; and states are shortening their school years because of budget cuts.

Meanwhile, our obligation to Iraq cannot be denied, not by those who supported the war nor those who opposed on conscionable grounds such as international law or the hardship it would impose on both Iraqis and a struggling U.S. economy.

Fortunately, there is a way to ease the burden on cash-strapped states and struggling U.S. taxpayers. Unfortunately, on this Bush is dead wrong and the Democrats either silent or profoundly clueless.

Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, planning the reconstruction of Europe, insisted that no millionaires be made out of the tragedy and destruction of the second World War. While it is easy enough to understand how this would fail to compute with the Bush Administration, it’s surprising that most of today’s Democrats aren’t embracing Roosevelt’s stand, which is simultaneously deeply moral and a fertile field for winning political points.

Common sense for the people of America, as well as those of Iraq and Afghanistan, calls for a War Profiteers Tax. This would tax excess profits of Halliburton subsidiaries and Bechtel and their ilk who are getting fat off of no-bid sweetheart reconstruction contracts. Indeed, we have done this or something similar during many previous U.S. wars.

Also, as Bush himself has stated, we should ask for war-time sacrifice, not from the families suffering from a budget crisis at home or fighting in Iraq, but the from nation’s wealthiest 1 percent. We should repeal their recent campaign-contribution rewards from Bush et al. Finally, funds should be shifted from the Pentagon Budget to the reconstruction effort.

So, let’s push the Orwellian nightmare a little further. Let’s have liberals and progressives jump, grudgingly to be sure, into bed with George Bush—at least for this one-nighter. Just be sure to wear protection. And be sure to make him give us our fair share of the blankets.

Karen Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (