Senate Democrats

Rethinking President Bush’s Iraq Policies: Alternative Strategies To Advance

For nearly four and a half years, fighting the war in Iraq has been the central priority of the Bush Administration’s national security strategy.  It has devoted $450 billion to this effort, while initiatives to stabilize Afghanistan, address the growing threat of al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and track down Osama bin Laden have received only a fraction of that funding.  Today, the Bush Administration is spending $1.9 billion a month on U.S. operations in Afghanistan and fighting the global war on terror – less than one-fifth of the $10 billion it is spending in Iraq each month. 

Other critical national security priorities also have suffered as a result of the Administration’s myopic focus on Iraq:  North Korea and Iran have continued to advance their nuclear programs, hundreds of tons of loose nuclear materials have remained insecure and vulnerable to terrorist theft around the globe, and dangerous gaps in U.S. ports, borders, and transportation systems have been left open at home.  

The following report takes a look at some of the many ways in which U.S. national security interests could have been better served had the Bush Administration focused on the real threats to American and global security and used the resources available in its foreign policy toolbox to rally global support behind the war against terrorism, win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world, and leverage U.S. leadership to advance effective strategies for curbing nuclear proliferation, combating global pandemics, and addressing other challenges around the world.

What the Bush Administration’s flawed Iraq strategy has cost so far

As we know from a number of assessments from our intelligence community, the Bush strategy in Iraq is not making us safer at home, nor is it making the world safer from terrorism.  As the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated, U.S. operations in Iraq are “help[ing] al Qaeda energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.”  Similarly, the April 2006 NIE judged that Iraq has become a “’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” 

The price of these misplaced priorities has been significant and is only growing:

  • 3,791: number of U.S. soldiers killed
  • 28,009: number of U.S. soldiers wounded
  • 73,715 – 80,337: estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed
  • $450 billion: amount appropriated to date
  • $10 billion: amount we are currently spending each month for operations in Iraq
  • $190 billion: estimated amount President Bush has requested for Fiscal Year 2008

(Department of Defense, 9/27/07; Iraq Body Count, 9/27/07; CRS, 7/16/07; Washington Post, 9/27/07)

How these funds could be used to better promote U.S. national security

While many of these initiatives may now be more difficult to pursue, given the negative impact of the Bush Administration’s flawed Iraq policies on America’s standing in the world, the readiness of U.S. military forces, and the opportunity costs of more than four years in Iraq, taking action in these areas could go a long way to bring our priorities back into balance and start to reverse the legacy of the Administration’s misguided approach to national security.

Effectively Addressing the Threat of al Qaeda and Global Terrorism

$15.5 billion to double U.S. Special Forces and help hunt down bin Laden and other terrorists.  The Center for American Progress reported that doubling U.S. Special Operations Forces would cost an estimated $15.5 billion.  These forces have played a key role in Afghanistan and are critical to hunting down terrorists around the globe.  Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that finding Osama bin Laden and addressing the threat of al Qaeda is the “number one” national security priority.  Unfortunately, 2,207 days have passed since 9/11 and the Bush Administration has failed to bring bin Laden or the other planners of the 9/11 attacks to justice. (Center for American Progress, 8/25/04; Director McConnell, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 9/10/07)

·          Cost in perspective:  47 days in Iraq

$11 billion to curb poppy production in Afghanistan, a key source for terrorist financing.  According to estimates from the Center for American Progress, a 5-year program to buy Afghanistan’s poppy crop would fund efforts to permanently transition Afghan farmers from growing opium to harvesting other crops and transitioning to other businesses. (Center for American Progress, 8/25/04)

·          Cost in perspective:  33 days in Iraq

$30 billion to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear materials.  In the countries of the former Soviet Union there is currently enough unsecured radioactive material to build 40,000 nuclear weapons.  In 2001, the bipartisan Baker-Cutler Commission stated that the “most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today, is the danger that weapons of mass-destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home.  The Commission reported that it would cost $3 billion over eight to ten years to secure all weapons-usable material in Russia. (Campaign for America’s Future; Russia Task Force, A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Nonproliferation Programs with Russia, 1/10/01)

·          Cost in perspective:  3 months in Iraq

$220 million to work toward halting North Korea’s nuclear program.  According to lead U.S. negotiator Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, it would cost $220 million to implement the requirements of the Six-Party Talks agreement with North Korea.  In exchange for providing the North Korean government with one million tons of heavy fuel, the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea could push Pyongyang to fulfill its terms of the agreement:  the dismantling of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and the disclosure of a list of all other nuclear facilities. (Report of the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for Fiscal Year 2008, April 2007)

·          Cost in perspective:  less than one day in Iraq

$1.9 billion to enhance U.S. diplomacy and restore American leadership in the world.  The Coalition for American Leadership Abroad has reported that the Foreign Service is understaffed by an estimated 1,000 positions.  The group estimates that addressing staffing shortages and improving embassy communications would cost $1.9 billion. (Report of the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for Fiscal Year 2008, April 2007)

·          Cost in perspective:  six days in Iraq

$30 billion to leverage U.S. leadership as a force for positive change in the world.  According to World Bank estimates, $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth. (Boston Globe, 5/2/07)

·          Cost in perspective: 3 months in Iraq

$100 billion to work toward ending our dependence on foreign oil.  The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of state and local officials, environmental advocacy groups, businesses and unions was established in 2003 with the goal of reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.  The group has called for “$300 billion of investment in new energy technologies and energy conservation over ten years to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and add millions of new, good-paying jobs.”  According to its financial strategy, the federal government would contribute $100 billion to the initiative. (Apollo Alliance; Report of the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for Fiscal Year 2008, April 2007)

·          Cost in perspective: 10 months in Iraq

Bolstering America’s Homeland Defenses

$3.5 to $7 billion to prevent a Chernobyl in the United States.  According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, our nation’s nuclear power plants are not designed to withstand a terrorist attack.  The Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for the United States has estimated that it would cost $3.5 to $7 billion to transfer all spent fuel that is being held at our nation’S.103 commercial nuclear reactors into dry, hardened storage in order to protect spent fuel against terrorist attacks. (Report of the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for Fiscal Year 2008, April 2007)

·          Cost in perspective: 10 to 21 days in Iraq

$255 million to secure our nation’s chemical plants.  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would cost $255 million over five years to fully fund the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.  (CBO, 6/26/06)  

·          Cost in perspective: 18 hours in Iraq

$7.5 billion to safeguard our nation’s ports.  The Coast Guard has estimated that $7.5 billion would be necessary to implement the requirements of the 2002 Maritime Transportation Safety Act, which would protect U.S. ports and waterways from terrorist threats. (Center for American Progress, 7/1/04)

·          Cost in perspective: 22 days in Iraq

$22.4 billion to screen checked baggage all U.S. airports.  A key 9/11 Commission recommendation called for the installation of in-line baggage screening systems for air cargo, to protect passenger aircraft from terrorist threats.  The Transportation Security Administration has estimated that the installation and operating costs for in-line screening systems would be $22.4 billion over 20 years.  At the current pace of funding, these systems will not be in place at U.S. airports until 2024. (Report of the Task Force for a Unified Security Budget for Fiscal Year 2008, April 2007)

·          Cost in perspective: less than 10 weeks in Iraq

$3.5 billion to screen air cargo on passenger planes.  The CBO has estimated that it would cost $3.5 billion over five years to screen all air cargo on passenger aircraft. (CBO, 2/2/07)

·          Cost in perspective: 11 days in Iraq

Ensuring National Preparedness

$40 billion to provide interoperable communications for first responders.  The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that it would cost $40 billion to modernize communications for the 2.5 billion first responders in the United States. (Department of Homeland Security, 3/17/04)

·          Cost in perspective: 4 months in Iraq

$6 billion to ensure public health preparedness.  According to CBO estimates, it would cost $6 billion over five years to fully fund the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, a measure that would provide the public health system the tools to prepare for and respond to a terrorist attack, pandemic threat or other public health disaster. (CBO 8/4/06)

·          Cost in perspective: 18 days in Iraq

Democrats, Advancing the Right Priorities for U.S. National Security

Senate Democrats demanded a change of course in Iraq so that the United States can refocus our resources on the battle against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats.  Over the past several months, Democrats have advanced several measures to change policy in Iraq, in order to transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’ open-ended commitment in Iraq.  Unfortunately, each of these initiatives have been blocked by Senate Republicans.

In the months ahead, Senate Democrats will continue to take every opportunity to push for a change of course in Iraq.  While ensuring continued counter-terrorism operations inside Iraq and further training of Iraqi security forces, Democrats’ comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will allow us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight of hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and addressing other important issues both at home and abroad.  

Senate Democrats provided increased funding for reconstruction and assistance initiatives to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the threat from the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorists.  In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Senate Democrats provided $909.9 million for reconstruction programs and State Department operations in Afghanistan, which represents an increase of $189 million above the President’s request.  Additional funds are provided for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rural counter-narcotics initiatives, development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance.  These initiatives are focused primarily in provinces targeted by the Taliban. 

Senate Democrats passed legislation to address critical unfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.  This year, Democrats have led the effort to pass the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007.  The legislation takes a major step toward fully implementing the recommendations of the bipartiS.Amdt.9/11 Commission and effectively marks a change of course after years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs.  The bill will make America more secure by giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe; making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing at all levels of state, local, and federal law enforcement.

Democrats secured increased emergency funding to better secure American borders, ports, and transit systems against terrorist threats.  The 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill also provides $1.05 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11.  This allocation includes hundreds of millions of dollars to protect American rail and mass transportation systems, install Explosive Detection Systems at airports, screen air cargo, and implement security measures at our nation’s ports. 

Democrats restored irresponsible cuts to national security programs proposed by the Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget.  Senate Democrats led efforts to reverse cuts to a number of important programs in the homeland security budget.  Specifically, the Senate-passed bill provides an additional $3 billion to fill in gaps in border security and immigration enforcement programs, nearly $90 million to purchase and install explosive detection equipment at airports, $1.2 billion for first responders, $15 million to double the frequency of spot checks at U.S. ports, and $190 million in port security grants, to fully fund security improvements as authorized by the SAFE Port Act of 2006.  The Senate bill would provide more than an eight percent increase over Fiscal Year 2007 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Administration’s proposed 1.7 percent increase.

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