Sequestration, Costs of War, & Syria

By: Michael Clayton

With U.S. military intervention in Syria looming, some are worried that sequester cuts to the defense budget will impair the ability of the military to efficiently complete the job, giving the White House an upper hand in the fast-approaching fiscal showdown. Sequestration has reduced the Pentagon’s budget by about $37 billion this year, with at least another $50 billion of reductions scheduled for the next fiscal year. The goal of the Obama Administration is to show that these reductions will severely hurt the Pentagon so that the GOP defense hawks will accept new taxes as part of deal to increase the Pentagon’s budget.  However, the White House already faced a setback when secretive debt talks with GOP centrists ended abruptly over talks of new taxes.

Steve Bell, a budget expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center, has argued that if the U.S. does strike against Syria, it will be “very, very difficult to insist” on the reducing the Pentagon’s budget. In fact, he predicts that Syrian intervention would result in a resolution that would “contain full funding for defense.” Others are not so optimistic and believe that any attempt to link military action in Syria to the sequester will backfire. According to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, this backfire will result because the majority of Americans do not want to be involved in a fight with Syria. Recent polls have shown that military intervention in Syria is very unpopular among the American people, with a recent Reuters poll showing favorability at only 19%.

While President Obama has been insisting that any offensive against Syria would be “limited” in nature, we don’t have to look that far in the past to see that cost estimates for such actions have rarely been as low as predicted. The most recent conflict in Libya cost the United States over $1 billion, and do I even need to bring up the underestimated costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Pentagon “expert” Gordon Adams of American University has estimated costs of Syrian intervention at $100 million, which seems to be an extremely conservative number. Tomahawk missiles, like the ones that would likely be used in a strike, cost an estimated $1.1 million each according to the U.S. Navy. The U.S. military fired 110 of these missiles on the first day alone when striking Libya. In a letter to the Senate in July, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that strikes from outside Syria would require military personnel and equipment that could cost billions. Whatever the estimated costs of intervention are, it is clear that unanticipated expenses will arise. In the end, perhaps the biggest problem is that our country is broke and cannot afford anymore ill-conceived wars. As Sen. Jim Inhofe stated when giving his opinion on whether he would support U.S. intervention in Syria, “Our military has no money left.”

As support for intervention is becoming a bipartisan effort, the Obama Administration is now teaming up with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in an attempt to reverse sequester cuts and intervene in Syria, while claiming that they do not want to put American “boots” on the ground. It’s politics as usual in Washington, with politicians from both sides of the establishment seemingly ready to spend whatever they deem necessary to support an intervention that contains little to no national interest.

Call Congress today at 202-224-3121 and urge your representative and senators to say “no” to attacking Syria.


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