In Madrid this week, the Bush administration is attending the largest international fund-raiser on record for a single country. Secretary of State Colin Powell is on hand to spearhead the U.S. effort to get $56 billion to rebuild Iraq.
Formally, the global conference is called the Madrid Donor's Conference and the guest list includes foreign ministers and dignitaries from 70 countries, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reluctantly attending. The U.S. started the ball rolling with a contribution of $20 billion - the largest pledge by far.
Other nations and organizations have promised to commit substantial amounts: the World Bank, whose president James Wolfensohn will be at the meeting, agreed to $5 billion over five years; Japan pledged $1.5 billion; the British, $440 million; Spain, $300 million; Canada, $300 million over two years; the European Union, $240 million; South Korea, $200 million; and Denmark, $50 million.
But the question remains: What about the Arab states? Should neighbors interested in peace be digging into their oil-rich wallets to promote peace in the region? Most remain nervous about supporting an effort that Washington led. They are, however, on the spot, having seen a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote last week to rebuild Iraq. The new Iraqi foreign minister has made it clear that it would be "shameful" if they did not add to the till.
Most of the Arab Gulf States will be at the meeting. Kuwait's minister said his nation was prepared to give money, but made the point that Luwait has already contributed $900 million for humanitarian projects.
Saudi Arabia is proposing a "basket" of assistance, including relief on the debt that Iraq owes. And one of the organizers, the United Arab Emirates, has indicated it will announce its pledge at the meeting.
To add to the drama in Madrid, there are international charities that are telling nations not to pay: Save the Children U.K. said this week that any non-U.N. fund would be wasted.
The Bush administration may be able to dig into the world's deep pockets for oil-rich Iraq, some experts believe, because the assumption by some of the world's leaders is that the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq will also divvy up the oil contracts and other rebuilding money between the generous donors.
The administration is trying to downplay expectations. Powell, already in Madrid, said he expects a "shortfall" in the $56 billion that the World Bank said Iraq will need.
Beyond the U.S. commitment and the World Bank promise, total commitments made prior to the meeting total $2 - $3 billion. Secretary General Annan said that "it's a good start," a statement that, by anyone's account, sounds bad.
But "it's not over 'til its over," we learned at the U.N. last week, when the U.S. walked into the vote with a majority of nine votes and walked out with a unanimous 15-vote resolution on Iraq. The U.S. is asking the world to "put its money where its mouth is" as the adage goes.