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Freedom Can Wait 

President Bush once called Iraq “the calling of our time.” Too bad it’s not worth sacrificing tax cuts.

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There are words, and then there are actions. There are ideals, and then there are realities. The current reality of our war in Iraq is that currently, so to speak, we don’t give a damn. Neither, in case you haven’t noticed, do President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress, who’ve cut vital reconstruction funding and democratic aid so quietly and gradually most of us haven’t noticed.

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Dance around the corpse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi all you want. The man was a thug who relished sawing off the heads of infidels. But he isn’t the only problem child in Iraq’s brutal quagmire, and he has a replacement in the name of Abu Abdul Rahman al-Iraqi. Or is that Abu Hamza al-Muhajir? Zarqawi wasn’t even the strongest link to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, as his terrorist cabal Jamaat al-Tawhid merged with al-Qaeda as little as two years ago. Anyone who thinks one terrorist’s death means every other terrorist or insurgent will put down their IEDs is the same type of person who believes Saddam possessed WMDs.

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Which is why continued support for the beleaguered people of Iraq is so crucial right now. Whether or not you support the president or even the war isn’t the point. The question is whether we’ll do what’s right by rebuilding a nation we deliberately tore apart.

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Let’s remind ourselves, using the president’s words, of this conflict’s importance. “This is a massive and difficult undertaking,” Bush said during a Nov. 6, 2003 speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “It is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. … The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

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Months before those words, Bush offered these words June 28, 2005: “When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom.”

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Then there are these most recent words from the president following Zarqawi’s demise: “It is worth it to help Iraq succeed,” he told Associated Press. “It is worth it to have a democracy in the Middle East. It is worth it to show other reformers and people who want to live in a free society what is possible.”

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So you see, few matters are more important than our mission in Iraq. But there are words, and there are actions. And apparently there are also ideals, and realities.

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The lives of Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops lost are, of course, priceless. But what good are lives sacrificed when we’re unwilling to follow through with funding for the war’s stated goals of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq?

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Just this week the House passed a bill funneling $66 billion more to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far the Iraq war alone has cost us $320 billion, or about $200 million per day. This pays for our troops and, hopefully, the security of the Iraqi people. This is important if we want to stabilize the country before democracy can take hold. The smaller, but equally important, story, however, revolves around funds for reconstruction and the promotion of democracy.

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As early as this January the administration decided against funding Iraqi reconstruction to the tune of $18.4 billion, diverting $2.5 billion earmarked for Iraqi schools and infrastructure to security forces instead. Then, this April, the Washington Post reported that government grants to organizations promoting democratic institutions in Iraq would soon shrink to a miniscule $63 million for 2007 as more money was diverted into security. In a blatant election-year move this month at the request of the White House, according to a UPI report, the Senate diverted $1.9 billion from the Iraqi war’s supplemental fund in order to better police our border with Mexico. Finally, it speaks volumes that a House bill early this month gave Afghanistan $962 million to help rid that country of its drug trade while Iraq received only $522 million for stabilization efforts. That’s right folks, eradicating drugs is more crucial than helping the Iraqi people out of the quagmire we created for them with so much enthusiasm.

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This week President Bush has the audacity to ask that Iraq’s nascent government use its oil supply to foot these bills even as our troops repeatedly fail to secure Iraq’s pipelines, let alone make it safe for Iraqis to step outside their homes.

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That our government has diverted more and more money to security measures in Iraq at the expense of reconstruction and democratization efforts doesn’t speak well for the planning that went into this ill-conceived war. It doesn’t speak well to us as a country that we’re unwilling to continue funding these efforts in addition to funding more security for Iraq. Certainly it doesn’t speak well for those who’ve lost their lives in the conflict.

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But as Bush reminds us this war is “worth the effort,” “worth the sacrifice,” and will be remembered as one of the great turning points “in the story of freedom.” Whatever you say, George. Whatever you say.

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