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Senate Democrats Berate Rumsfeld Over Iraq Request

The defense secretary tells a committee that Bush's $87-billion plan is easily affordable.

September 25, 2003|Paul Richter and Janet Hook | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ran into a buzz saw of criticism from Democrats on Wednesday when he told a congressional committee that the $87 billion sought for Iraq was badly needed and easily affordable.

Appearing as part of the administration's broad effort to win approval for the request, Rumsfeld acknowledged that $87 billion is "a great deal of money." But, he told the Senate Appropriations Committee, "it's a modest fraction of the nation's wealth" and "it is necessary for the security of our nation and the stability of the world."

At the same time, L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that without the money, Iraq could become a haven for terrorists, just as Afghanistan had become a home for the Taliban and Al Qaeda after it was "debilitated by decades of war and mismanagement."

The aid request is expected to be quickly approved by large majorities of both parties. But Democrats -- under pressure from the antiwar wing of their party -- are using the deliberations to challenge the administration on its justification for the war, the reconstruction's mounting cost and the way the Bush team has treated Congress in the process.

Rumsfeld was accompanied by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command. They were told by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) that the war was "a tremendous military victory, and you folks at the table ought to be congratulated."

However, Hollings added, "Thus far, it's a political failure."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) scolded Rumsfeld for the way the administration officials have accepted little guidance from Congress on the issue.

"There's a feeling you know it all and nobody else knows anything, and therefore we're here just to say, 'Yes sir, how high do we jump?' And at some point, we refuse to jump," she said.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) charged that "the American people deserve to know more about what the administration has planned." But instead, "the American people only get comparisons to the Marshall Plan," the post-World War II program for the reconstruction of Europe. The $87-billion request includes about $66 billion for support of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and $21 billion for reconstruction of the countries.

Administration officials acknowledged under questioning that the request includes billions of dollars to cover costs incurred by allied troops that have joined the U.S.-led effort in the region.

About $390 million is earmarked for the members of a new Polish-led division that is patrolling southern Iraq; another $390 million is to go to a third foreign-led division, if it materializes, officials said.

About $1.4 billion is earmarked for other costs related to the allied troops, including paying Pakistan for the use of its bases as well as for fuel and other services it has provided. Congress this year approved another $1.4 billion for the same purpose, about half of which has been spent, officials said.

Defense officials were cautious in predicting whether they would receive much additional help from allied forces. Rumsfeld said the range of possible allied troop offerings was somewhere between "zero and 10,000 to 15,000."

The Pentagon had anticipated receiving substantial numbers of troops from Pakistan, India, Turkey, Bangladesh and South Korea. At the moment, however, hopes for support from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have dimmed. The most likely prospect is Turkey, which may send 3,000 to 10,000 troops if a deal can be cut.

Officials indicated that it was not certain whether any large new allied force would relieve the burden on U.S. reservists, who have been facing yearlong tours because of the occupation.

Myers would say only that any new multinational division "might reduce the active or reserve component call-up that we'd have to have."

Rumsfeld pointed out that 31 countries have supplied troops, showing, he said, that "this business that America is going it alone is not factual at all."

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out that most of the countries had sent only a few hundred troops or fewer, and many contributions were "no larger than a rural police department in my home state." Only six of the 31 countries provided 1,000 or more personnel.

Bremer heard complaints that other countries were unlikely to provide much money for reconstruction, leaving the bill for American taxpayers.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted that other nations would chip in no more than $2 billion or $3 billion because the administration's go-it-alone approach had "so poisoned the well."

The administration blitz on Capitol Hill also included sending Vice President Dick Cheney to meet with House Republicans in a closed-door session.

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said that though Cheney was well received, lawmakers gave "notice to the vice president that we intend in the appropriations process to ask some tough questions" about the $87-billion budget request.

Cheney rejected the idea that Iraq's debts to other nations would be taken on by the U.S.

"The vice president made clear that no U.S. money under any circumstances would go to pay Saddam Hussein's debt," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).

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