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Editorial: $87 billion well-spent

Four months and 287 American lives later, President George W. Bush came before the American people in a national broadcast Sunday night to outline where we have been, where we are going and how much rebuilding Iraq, and continuing the war on terror, will cost: $87 billion. Bush's commitment to Iraq is assuring--but democracy-builders proceed with caution.

 In his background on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush outlined the victories against terrorist networks and for those he should be commended.

 Bush said his primary objective is to destroy terrorist networks across the globe, guided by continued spending meant to extend the reach and effectiveness of American intelligence operations. However, before America can devote significant resources to other world theaters and threats, it must secure Iraq. Bush was right in calling for support from other countries in this endeavor.

 Despite the Bush Administration's claims to the contrary, the American military is understaffed, and cannot guarantee the level of stability around Baghdad that will be required for reconstruction efforts to make meaningful progress. The terrorist attacks in recent weeks prove that a multilateral peacekeeping force is necessary--however, foreign troops must not replace the American force, they must supplement it. It will take a large, coordinated force to repel the Ba'athist guerrillas and the influx of foreign Islamic terrorists that have crossed Iraq's largely unpoliced borders to make war on American forces. Bush's call to world leaders to widen the coalition involved in rebuilding Iraq is a step in the right direction.

 In this respect, Bush's second and third objectives--enlisting international support in rebuilding Iraq and empowering the Iraqi people for self-government--seem to go hand in hand. With a larger force and increased security, the reconstruction planners will be able to proceed with the most important tasks at hand--installing in Iraq a working infrastructure, including updated electric, water and sanitation facilities and turning the administration of central Iraq over to the Iraqi people.

 The immense resources being put into American efforts in Iraq should be used to create an environment of security for the Iraqi people, economic security not being the least of these. America should proceed with caution and prudence in developing stable industry in Iraq.

 Reconstruction can be a mutually profitable venture, for Iraq and for foreign multinational corporations. Yet the U.S. must keep in mind that to enlist the military support of other nations, the U.S. will likely have to share the reconstruction economic pie, by opening reconstruction contracts to foreign bidders. The contracts should be awarded on the basis of cost-effective, comprehensive bids, not nationality or political connections. By the same token, the world must accept the fact that American multinational corporations may, in many cases, be best suited for rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure.

 While Bush deserves credit for laying out America's reconstruction agenda, and its price-tag for the American public, he did leave questions to be answered. First, his statement concerning the failure to produce evidence of WMD continues to cast a shadow over the justifications for war, and the credibility of his administration.

 Further, Bush cited the need to continue the war on terror, and bring the fight to the homelands of those who would make war on America. However, he failed to address legitimate concerns about terrorist networks in Saudi Arabia, an acknowledged hotbed for terrorist activities, and the home of many of the terrorists involved on the attacks on the Twin Towers.

 To be brief, Bush laid out a reasonable and realistic list of priorities, and Congress should be equally reasonable in funding those priorities.


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