The War's Dirty Secret:
It's About Changing United States, Not Iraq
by Steve Lopez
Los Angeles Times, March
Much to her surprise, the federal government
is promising to do everything Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine
Waters has spent years fighting for.
Education for the neediest souls will
be transformed, quality health care will be guaranteed, damaged
roadways and bridges will be rebuilt, and millions of dollars
will be spent to spur new business.
Waters just never figured the beneficiaries
would be residents of Iraq.
A few weeks ago, when I spent several
hours with her in Washington as the start of the war approached,
Waters had begun to fear the worst.
"I'm very worried about the long-term
impact," she said, predicting that as the cost of the war
grows, states, counties and cities will get stiffed.
Waters wasn't talking about the weeks
and months ahead, but the years and decades to come. The cost
of the war and rebuilding Iraq, she said, could drastically limit
what government can do.
The effort to turn Iraq into a democracy,
in other words, is making the U.S. less of one. Our opposition
party has disappeared, corporate interests dictate public policy,
and the feds may be rummaging through your e-mail.
There's a dirty secret no one has told
you, and here it is: This war is not about changing Iraq, it's
about changing America.
Unless you're lucky enough to be an investor
in one of the corporations that will win multimillion-dollar contracts
to rebuild Iraq, you may be hurting when the cost of the war and
a new era of deficit spending put even more of a drag on the economy.
If you don't earn enough to hit the jackpot
on President Bush's proposed tax cuts, you're just going to have
to fend for yourself. The whole idea is to train you to expect
less and to feel patriotic about it. If things get really bad,
you can always move to Iraq.
"I think it's terribly arrogant and
overly ambitious for this president to think he can invade that
country, turn it into a democracy, and use American taxpayer dollars
to build an infrastructure that still is not built in some parts
of this nation," Waters said.
"In addition to that, he wants to
go ahead with tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country."
To clarify, Waters isn't against sending American dollars to other
"I believe in foreign assistance,
and I think the richest nation in the world should certainly help
our neighbors in other parts of the world," she said. "But
I dislike the idea that we tear up Iraq first, bombing it to smithereens,
and then we go back and put in the water systems, the health-care
facilities and the other things we've torn up."
Last week, Waters and the rest of the
country got the first bill for Operation Iraqi Freedom when the
president asked Congress for $74.7 billion to cover war-related
costs. Empire-building isn't cheap.
"That's probably going to underwrite
about one month's cost of the war," said Waters. "And
it's just the tip of the iceberg."
Waters got nervous when she saw Halliburton,
Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, grab one of the first
rebuilding contracts before we'd even begun knocking things down.
To help prevent a feeding frenzy by corporations with political
connections, Waters introduced two amendments.
The first would have put a four-year hold
on the awarding of military contracts to companies that helped
draft the Iraqi war policy or employed high-level administration
It was shot down like a sputtering Scud.
Waters went back to the drawing board
and came up with a softer amendment.
"This time I just said, 'OK, let's
say the person who's worked for that company in the last four
years can't do the negotiating. He'd have to recuse himself from
that discussion.' Now that's as simple as it can get, and they
voted against that one, too."
One night last week, I called Waters'
Capitol Hill office at 9 p.m. her time and she answered the phone
herself, having just returned from a House session.
"I was on the floor for an hour,
helping educate people about the cuts being made to veterans'
programs," she said.
So let's review.
We're asking 200,000 troops to risk life
and limb in Iraq, and the White House and Congress are preparing
a welcome-home party by slashing veterans' benefits.
Last week, I visited the Veterans Affairs
dorms in West L.A., where I met a Vietnam vet who was wounded
six times. He had a brace on his leg and shrapnel scars from head
to toe, and he'd finally given up on his fight for enough disability
pay to live on.
When I walked away, patients were calling
out to me, saying there's no hot water for showers.
Things are not looking good for the future
veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
By Waters' count, current budget proposals
would trim $15 billion from veterans' programs -- something's
got to cover those big tax cuts -- over the next 10 years.
And that's if there are no unforeseen
costs in the rebuilding of Iraq.