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October 12, 2006

REASONS TO APPLAUD HILLARY:

No. 1, she avoids the "Bush lied, people died" mantra, which tends to delegitimize our effort in Iraq. Instead, she says, not unreasonably, "We have to deal with the Iraq we have, not the Iraq we wish we had." That sounds to me like someone who is thinking realistically about a responsibility that might be hers starting Jan. 20, 2009.

No. 2, she endorses the idea, which I championed long ago, of an Iraqi oil fund that would distribute part of the state's oil profits in payments to every individual. She says that she recommended it in 2003 and that it was shot down by Dick Cheney–something I've never seen before in print.

"I thought it was something that could demonstrate clearly that we were not on the side of the oil companies, we were not on the side of the ruling elites–we were on the side of the Iraqi people." Yes, exactly! She says that over the past month she has asked the president and deputy prime minister of Iraq and the U.S. ambassador there, "When are you going to get the oil deal done?"

Well, that's two cheers. And I'm certainly on-board with the oil-trust idea. In fact, it may have started here. At least, Michael Barone got the idea here.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin cheers too, and adds: "As to whether Sen. Clinton really did urge the Bush Administration to adopt this approach back in 2003, I have no way of knowing. However, a number of people did try to persuade the Administration to embrace it at the time, including my colleague and Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith. Unfortunately, their advice was not followed." He has some thoughts on what might be done now, too.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Larry Stevens emails:

The first I heard about the idea was in April, 2003, when I asked Milton Friedman what to do about it. He suggested selling the oil concession and putting the proceeds in exactly such a fund.

I have also read recently that Ahmed Chalabi proposed modeling a program on the Alaska oil trust in those early days.

Hmm. There are certainly some non-silly arguments against this approach -- the likelihood that it would make people act like they're on the dole being one -- but it seems to me that it deserved much more attention than it got from the Administration. Any time Milton Friedman, Vernon Smith, Ahmed Chalabi, and Hillary Clinton agree on something . . . .