Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has urged Congress to approve President Bush's $87 billion budget request for Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld says the money is needed as an investment in international security.
Secretary Rumsfeld told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the president's budget request is primarily to continue the political and economic progress being made in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld said 75 percent of the money is needed to support coalition troops, while the remaining funds are to help those countries get on a path to stability, self-government, and self-reliance.
"Is $87 billion a great deal of money? The answer is yes," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "Can our country afford it? The answer is also yes.
"We believe that it is necessary for the security of our country and the stability of the world and that the price of sending terrorists a message that we are not willing to spend what it takes to do or what it takes, that we value comfort or money more than freedom, would be far greater," he added.
Secretary Rumsfeld says to turn Iraq into a stable and democratic country requires investments now to restore critical infrastructure and basic services necessary to jump-start the economy.
Mr. Rumsfeld says Iraq can not make those improvements without assistance from the United States and the international community.
"Helping Iraqis provide for their own security is critical," he emphasized. "The investments the president is requesting are in a very real sense a critical element of the coalition's exit strategy. The sooner Iraq can defend its own people, the sooner the United States and the coalition forces can turn over the security responsibility to the Iraqis."
Members of the opposition Democratic Party made it clear the president's budget request will be scrutinized.
West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd said he is concerned that the U.S. involvement in Iraq will be more extensive and expensive than the Bush administration expects.
"It is the beginning of an enormous commitment to Iraq," said Senator Byrd. "We have the duty to understand the enormity of the potential consequences and to insist on an explanation of those consequences for the American people before we act."
While Congress is expected to rapidly approve money to support U.S. soldiers in Iraq, some members are expected to challenge the requested $20 billion for rebuilding Iraq and establishing a democratic government in Baghdad.