Levin slams $500M Iraq request: 04/10/08
Gordon Trowbridge / Detroit News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Sen. Carl Levin will ask the Pentagon’s top officials today to drop a request to spend nearly half a billion dollars on rebuilding Iraqi police stations — a request that came just hours after the U.S. ambassador to Iraq told lawmakers “the United States is no longer involved in the physical reconstruction business.”
The Michigan Democrat, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that he will raise the issue today with Defense Secretary Robert Gates when Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testify on Iraq policy.
Levin signaled that concern over Iraq spending — at a time when rising oil prices are filling Iraq’s own coffers — may become the new focus of congressional Democrats who have sought unsuccessfully for nearly two years to force a start to large-scale troop withdrawals from Iraq.
“It’s an outrage that we’re paying billions of dollars to reconstruct a country that is building up surpluses at our expense,” Levin told The News. Exhibit A, he said, is a request the Pentagon sent to Congress late Tuesday, to move hundreds of millions of dollars targeted at training Iraqi security forces into repairing and rebuilding police stations.
Concerns about the cost of the war — and which government picks up the tab — were a recurring theme of the two days of hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker that wrapped up Wednesday. A number of Democrats and some Republicans raised it Tuesday before the Senate’s military and foreign affairs committees, and members of the House repeated the worries when they got their chance Wednesday.
Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., a member of House Armed Services and chairman of the House Budget Committee, told the officials Wednesday that a Congressional Budget Office estimate he requested put the cost of the war at $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
But neither the cost concerns nor other worries raised by lawmakers moved Petraeus and Crocker from their recommendation that U.S. troop withdrawals must cease after the last of the five “surge” combat brigades comes home in July.
Petraeus said he is unlikely to endorse any fresh buildup of troops even if security in the country deteriorates, signaling that the limits of the U.S. military have been reached for now.
Levin said he would seek to add language to upcoming defense legislation that would force Iraq to bear more of the financial burden for its security, either in a war spending request Congress will take up later this month, or in the annual defense authorization bill just beginning to take shape.
He still has hopes, he said, of proposing legislation that would mandate or recommend more troop withdrawals. A series of attempts last year to pass such legislation failed, either because of President Bush’s veto pen or the inability to attract 60 votes in the Senate. One option is to require withdrawals to continue after July, Levin said.
But he also admitted it’s possible Senate leaders would decide to forego the attempt, and leave it up to voters in November to choose a president who would change policy in Iraq.
“If that’s kind of the consensus, that we’re not going to be able to get (votes for a withdrawal), we may want to try something else to dramatize our determination to shift responsibility to the Iraqis,” he said.
That “something” may be stronger language to force Iraq to pay more war costs, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach Gordon Trowbridge at (202) 662-8738 or email@example.com.