As country after country demands money and military aid from the Bush administration in return for cooperation in the struggle against Iraq and terrorism, the price tag is growing and some in Congress have begun questioning the strategy.
In the run-up to a possible war with Iraq, the United States has been secretly negotiating with Israel, Jordan and Turkey over the terms of their support for U.S. military action. In addition, Egypt is now seeking $4.4 billion in war-related aid, congressional sources said Friday.
"It appears to me that the U.S. is the cow -- the cash cow in this case," Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in a recent Senate speech. "We are the ones being milked. Where will this all end? How many nations will be promised American economic assistance just for their tacit support?"
In an unusual show of unity, Congress's top Democratic and Republican leaders have urged President Bush to include a multibillion-dollar package of "urgent" military and economic aid for Israel in a war-related emergency spending request being prepared by the White House. Israel, already the top U.S. aid recipient, is seeking $8 billion in U.S. loan guarantees and at least $1 billion to $2 billion in new military aid.
Jordan is seeking more than $1 billion, to compensate for losses resulting from a war-related stoppage of imported Iraqi oil, which it has been receiving at below-market prices.
Least certain are aid packages for Egypt and Turkey. Egypt has asked for as much as $2.2 billion in grants, $1 billion in loan guarantees, and an additional $1.2 billion in debt relief and advanced funding from 2004. The administration has offered Turkey $6 billion in military and economic aid as an incentive to allow U.S. troops to use the country to launch an invasion of northern Iraq. But Turkey's refusal to grant the U.S. request now makes those payments unlikely.
Whether Congress will support these initiatives at a time when fiscal pressures are forcing a freeze -- or possible cuts -- in domestic spending is unclear. The Egyptian request alone is equal to 25 percent of this year's $16.3 billion U.S. foreign aid budget. Even without these war-connected "emergency" requests for cooperating countries, Bush has proposed a 15 percent increase in the regular, non-emergency foreign aid program for 2004, to pay for increases to fight AIDS and poverty abroad.
In a sharp exchange last week, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) cautioned Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the administration should "make sure the votes are there" in Congress for the Turkish aid package, which would require lawmakers' approval.
"So far we have not been told where that money is going to come from or how it's going to come," said Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid.
Meanwhile, pro-Armenian House members, who previously backed a resolution that would have blamed Turkey for "genocide" against Armenians in 1915, have been critical of the U.S. offer to Turkey.
Economic and military aid has been a tool of U.S. foreign policy since World War II. This year the United States is providing $2.5 billion to dozens of countries through an "economic support" fund reserved for nations important to U.S. strategic and political interests.
But Leahy warned in a recent speech that the war on terrorism was pushing U.S. foreign policy back to its Cold War model, when billions of dollars in cash and military equipment were channeled to corrupt or undemocratic governments in exchange for their support against the Soviet Union. Citing Pakistan and Uzbekistan, he accused the administration of making "payoffs to governments -- including repressive, corrupt governments -- that agree to go along with us in Iraq and in combating terrorism." Uzbekistan, Leahy said, was an autocratic government that was "showered with a large increase in U.S. foreign aid" after Sept. 11, 2001, to persuade it to assist the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.
Leahy complained that Pakistan, which received $200 million from the economic support fund in the recently enacted 2003 foreign aid bill, is ruled by a general "who seized power in a military coup and that is accused of supporting North Korea's nuclear program."
In a vivid example of terrorism's impact on U.S. policy, Bush soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks waived a ban on direct U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan resulting from its 1991-93 war with Armenia. Azerbaijan is strategically located near Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
The high-level plea to Bush for the Israel aid package was contained in a letter signed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). It cited Israel's "severe economic recession, caused in large part by the campaign of violence and terror being waged against it." The United States "cannot allow" Israel to lose its military edge, Frist and Daschle wrote.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent similar letters to Bush.
Congressional support for Israel is broad and deep. The 2003 foreign aid budget gives Israel $2.1 billion in military equipment financing and $600 million in economic support. Congressional sources said any deal with Israel will follow the pattern of 1991, when the United States provided loan guarantees on condition the funds not be used for new settlements in the West Bank.
"I don't think you have an alternative" to the aid, said Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee. "Israel has been the democratic bulwark in the Middle East, and our policy has been leaning toward them" since the 1950s.
"Israel is in the eye of the Iraq storm," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. She called it a "top target" of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "biological and chemical weapons and a key partner in the war on terrorism."
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbied actively for the high-level congressional support, and the aid package has the backing of Christian evangelicals. Gary Bauer, a prominent conservative who has been organizing a pro-Israel coalition of Jewish and Christian groups, said Israel should be "at the top of the list" for aid.
Some officials who asked not to be identified expressed concern that a new aid package for Israel could increase Arab resentment toward the United States unless it is linked to progress on the stalled Middle East peace process.
"Support for the Israel aid package in the Senate will depend on how it is justified and how it will be paid for. The administration should use this opportunity to fashion our aid in ways that help move the Middle East peace process forward," said a Democratic Senate aide.
Although it is now in limbo, the Turkish aid offer has come under more attack. Supporters of Armenia have questioned the need for such a sizable package. In a letter last month to Powell, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), co-chairman of the House's Armenian Caucus, said Turkey should not require incentives to support a U.S.-led war aimed at ridding Turkey of a dangerous neighbor.
But pro-Turkish lawmakers have formed their own caucus, made up of members who support that country's democracy, close ties to Israel and military purchases from contractors in a number of congressional districts. Two influential former senior House members, Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Bob Livingston (R-La.), have been representing Turkish interests in Washington. And Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.) headed for Turkey last weekend for meetings with senior Turkish officials in the wake of parliament's rejection of the U.S. request to station troops.
"It would be a great loss if the Turkish-American relationship was destabilized," Wexler said.