There are conflicting reports about what happened last weekend when the Congressional delegation including California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher visited Baghdad. He may have said that he wants the Iraqis to repay some of the money Americans have spent rebuilding the country after the 2003 invasion -- here's the quote AFP used, which has been picked up elsewhere:
"Once Iraq becomes a very rich and prosperous country ... we would hope that some consideration be given to repaying the United States some of the mega-dollars that we have spent here in the last eight years."
This may have enraged his Iraqi hosts, who may have kicked him out of the country. Rohrabacher issued a statement on Monday to The Hill denying this: "There was no change in our scheduling while we were in Iraq. Our itinerary remained exactly the same and we departed as scheduled. We were not officially told to leave the country before we left and were never told or warned not to come back."
All right. But what to make of the congressman's modest proposal? Is it even worth considering that Iraq should try to pay back the United States for the $61 billion spent on reconstruction and aid after the end of the war? It's easy to understand why Iraqis might react so strongly to that concept, even if they didn't actually kick Rohrabacher out of the country for broaching it: Iraqi war reparations sound like such a World War I concept -- a kind of updated war guilt clause that hangs a debt around the necks of Iraqi children who never asked for the U.S. to destroy and then try to rebuild their country. (And today's Iraqis might add that all of America's money still hasn't bought a reliable electrical grid.)
What's more, Iraqi officials have already asked the U.S. to pay them for some of the "improvements" made to Baghdad after the war. Earlier this year, the city asked for $1 billion to cover the damage caused by all the blast walls the Americans set up across the city.
But Rohrabacher has expressed an idea that you can hear in any Washington bar where military or foreign policy types have had more than two drinks: It's the belief that America needs to get something -- anything -- out of its Iraq misadventure. It'll be years, if ever, before its oil flows in anything like the quantities said to be in its untapped reserves. Under the agreement that will go into effect after the American withdrawal at the end of the year, the U.S. can't even station combat aircraft at the Iraqi bases it has been using, or generally use Iraq as a platform from which to project power in the Middle East. If, as some expect, the Iraqis ask for American forces to stay past the end of this year, that could mean more billions and more American lives in danger. Rohrabacher might argue that the past is gone and what's done is done, but it's reasonable to ask for at least some compensation for the schools, logistical support, construction projects and other aid the U.S. has paid for since the end of the war.
What do you think?