America About to Abandon Iraq

As American soldiers are preparing to leave Iraq, lawmakers at home have suddenly woken up to the war’s skyrocketing costs.

While America is preparing for defeat in Afghanistan, its withdrawal from Iraq is well underway. The US State Department, belatedly realizing that it will see its funding for missions in Iraq cut off as combat forces are about to depart, is struggling to implement vital projects.

Starting next September, the State Department is supposed to take over all police training in Iraq from coalition military personnel. It has also to replace its current sixteen provincial reconstruction teams spread across the country with five consular offices outside Baghdad.

Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño report on the nigh impossibility of accomplishing these policy objectives for The Washington Post. While the costs of transition operations have skyrocketed, “the money to pay for them has become increasingly tight,” they write. “Congress cut the State Department’s Iraq request in the 2010 supplemental appropriation that President Obama signed late last month; the Senate Appropriations Committee and a House subcommittee have already slashed the administration’s $1.8 billion request for fiscal 2011 operations in Iraq.”

The military is urging lawmakers to reconsider this spending cuts, dreading that Washington will leave Iraq to its own devices while major reconstruction efforts are still being undertaken.

The bulk of the additional costs is to provide for the security of State Department personnel: some $400 million more than initially requested. With American armed forces pulling out, the department proposes to triple the current 2,700 security contractors and reinforce facilities where diplomats and police trainers will work to specifications beyond what the military considers safe for its own personnel.

The administration and Congress disagree over whether the State Department is asking for additional funds or for a reallocation of what it has already requested. “To some extent, the question is irrelevant,” notes the Post, because the likely new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, has already warned appropriators that if there was no more money for State’s operations budget, “it would have to be taken out of development assistance programs in Iraq and elsewhere.” That would leave State workers with security but without ample financing for their actual work which is rebuilding Iraq.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously argued that her department’s Iraq proposal is a bargain compared with the $16 billion overall the government will save in reduced military costs after a reduction to 50,000 American troops at the end of this month. While defense appropriators are used to such funding levels though, “they are astronomical to lawmakers overseeing the State Department, whose global operations budget request totals about $16 billion for 2011.”

As it is, Congress probably won’t agree to pay for future Iraq reconstruction efforts which will seriously undermine the commitment the United States made to the country in spite of withdrawing its troops.