Over the weekend, I read that the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to cut $1 billion from the aid the Obama administration requested for Iraq during that country’s period of transition to a new government. The cuts extend to funding for security forces. They seem absurd under the present circumstances. With the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to be halved this summer, just as Iraq is trying to form a government, how does it make sense to cut funding for Iraqi troops who are trying to fill the gap left by American units?
Not surprisingly, the cuts were inspired by Committee Chariman Carl Levin. As the Washington Post’s board of editors points out, they are not the product of fiscal probity — Levin allowed almost $3 billion to be added to the overall defense appropriations bill in earmarks for projects the Pentagon didn’t ask for.
Instead, according to the Post, Levin was piqued by the Iraqi parliament’s decision to reduce its own defense budget. But Iraq is already funding most of the cost of the military transition (as it should), and is spending much more on defense as a percentage of GDP than the U.S. Moreover, Iraq has needed bailouts from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and will have to issue new debt to cover its budget deficit in 2010. A reliable partner would not deny Iraq the $1 billion under these circumstances.
And therein lies the real issue. As the Post concludes:
]T]he biggest problem with the Senate cuts is the message they send: that the long-term strategic partnership that the United States has promised Iraq is likely to be barren. As Iraqis deliberate over the nature and course of their next government, there could hardly be a worse time for Congress to give that impression.