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Applying classic GOP accountability to the ongoing mess in Iraq

I keep listening but I don't hear the same rhetoric or values applied to the war that have been put on, for example, school teachers and education. The No Child Left Behind law attempts to make sure federal education dollars are spent usefully. OK, so even if you buy the logic, you wonder, do people just call for fiscal responsibility on the particular topics they want accountability for?

by Joni Balter

Remember those good old Republican Party ideas and catchwords for assuring government money is well spent? Accountability! Fiscal prudence! Performance audits! All day and night! Yes. Let's make sure our federal dollars are well-spent.

Is it just me or is it embarrassingly quiet out there in Republican-ville when it comes to the war in Iraq? Where is the same Republican rhetoric for accountability and reasonable spending on the senseless war in Iraq?

How about some benchmarks there's a good term for judging whether the hundreds of billions of dollars in war spending are well spent? How about the more than 2,300 American lives lost? Were those men and women sacrificed for a useful purpose?

I keep listening but I don't hear the same rhetoric or values applied to the war that have been put on, for example, school teachers and education. The No Child Left Behind law attempts to make sure federal education dollars are spent usefully. OK, so even if you buy the logic, you wonder, do people just call for fiscal responsibility on the particular topics they want accountability for?

Every Republican and many Democrats want accountability and lots of testing to make sure those scary public-school teachers earning modest salaries and working 10 to 12 hours a day aren't trying to rip off the federal piggy bank.

In my experience, nine of 10 teachers work their hearts out and really try to do a good job, often with challenging students. I have looked into their eyes and I don't see people trying to pull a scam or a rip-off. But we test the kids, and by inference, the teachers, every chance we get. When I think of No Child Left Behind and all the implied fiscal accountability, it bothers me we don't apply any of the same thinking to the war in Iraq.

Nor do we apply it to something like the Department of Homeland Security, the Orwellian new federal bureaucracy that gets upward of $40 billion a year in federal money, much of it going to questionable spending.

CBS News reports that since the start of the war, billions of dollars given to private contractors have gone unaccounted for and there are widespread allegations of fraud and war profiteering.

A Pentagon audit found Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, may have overcharged the Army by $61 million as part of its no-bid contract to help rebuild Iraq's oil industry. On and on good money running after bad.

How will we know when we have spent enough to help that faraway country? Is it a good investment to rebuild infrastructure that might be blown up the very next day? What would a similar federal investment in road-building and infrastructure in our own communities look like?

The billions spent on Iraq are being invested in such things as electricity, education, water, sewage sanitation and oil networks. Some money was being diverted to building new security forces and a nationwide system of medium- and maximum-security prisons and detention centers. A lot of spending doesn't directly benefit the American taxpayer footing the bill.

Yet, what speaks loudest to me is the silence from Republican and even some Democratic lawmakers. You don't hear enough yammering about fiscal prudence or accountability for a war the president says may end after he leaves office. How awful. The King of Accountability ends up not being accountable for anything, especially if he leaves a world-class mess for his successor.

What are the limits? Bush acts as if they are skyward. Even with a failed policy, he doesn't want to be hamstrung by budget limits or end-dates. We act as if rebuilding parts of another country is a good investment.

Where are the calls for accountability and performance audits when some companies working in Iraq are overcharging? Where are the Republicans who pride themselves on fiscal responsibility?

Sure, there is a difference between a one-time war and ongoing spending in education and other federal investments. But the war is ongoing, too.

If Republicans are to be consistent, they ought to start calling right away for more audits, accountability and, yes, fiscal prudence for a war that makes less and less sense every day.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

— Joni Balter
Seattle Times
2006-04-02


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