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Austerity Is for the Little People: Syria Edition | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Austerity Is for the Little People: Syria Edition


A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, August 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Nour Fourat)

Schools, libraries, post offices and other public services are closing across the country in the wake of budget cuts, and Congress may have just voted to cut $1.5 trillion from programs like Head Start over the next decade, but many officials still feel confident the US is positioned to fund yet another expensive military operation in Syria.

Obviously, current and former officials aren’t debating the moral implications of killing human beings in order to “save” other human beings as part of a murky plan that essentially boils down to underwear gnome logic (cruise mussels + something = Assad is gone and democracy!), but these same officials brazenly claim that the cost of a military operation in Syria will be “relatively easily absorbed.”

This rhetoric is familiar. A report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction called the Iraq reconstruction effort back in 2008 “a $100 billion failure,” and alleged that the Pentagon “simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up” failures. The report details how Jay Garner, then-head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, warned then–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the military operation in Iraq would be costly.

“What do you think that’ll cost?” Mr. Rumsfeld asked of the most expansive plan.

“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Mr. Garner said.

“My friend,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.”

According to a recent study, the Iraq was cost more than $2 trillion, and with benefits owed to war veterans added in, could ultimately cost more than $6 trillion over the next four decades.

Of course, there are arguments to be made that Iraq and Syria vastly differ both in scale and scope, but the point is that officials have a track record of underestimating the time, commitment and cost such lofty military procedures require, especially when the goal of said operation remains unclear.

Still, many officials are adamant that the United States can endure yet another military operation with a giant question mark as its end date.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham petitioned the White House recently for a robust military campaign against Syria intended to weaken the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Part of their plea entails the restoration of military funding cut by austerity measures, including forced spending cuts that came down during the sequester.

The senators seem less concerned with other aspects of the sequestration, namely the 57,000 kids cut from Head Start, the program for pre-school age children from low-income families.

“We cannot keep asking the military to perform mission after mission with a sequestration and military cuts hanging over their heads,” GOP Representative Buck McKeon of California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN on Monday. “We have to take care of our own people first.”

According to Opensecrets.org, McKeon’s top contributor thus far this year is Northrop Grumman, the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world as of 2010, so “our people” apparently don’t include the children of Philadelphia or Chicago, where a slew of public schools closings just occurred. For officials like McKeon, budget cuts are a terrible, immoral thing… if they’re affecting the military, and ultimately, his corporate donors. Otherwise, it’s austerity for everyone else, i.e., business as usual.

There is one party that wins if another military operation is approved by Congress: the weapons industry, arguably one of the only recession proof businesses in existence.

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Lord Thompson, chief operating office of the Lexington Institute consultants’ group, told Reuters the administration’s proposed limited strike on Syria could buoy shares in major weapons makers such as missile maker Raytheon Company and Lockheed Martin, which builds the Aegis combat system used on Navy ships.

“Any chance of military action tends to boost defense shares and bolster the case for defense spending,” Thompson said, noting there was always the potential for escalation, despite the relatively small cost of cruise missile strikes.

Yes, there is always the potential for escalation. Though Obama has thus far said he will not put US soldiers on the ground in Syria, military planners say they are prepared for all possible “contingencies,” which is great news for Thompson and other weapons manufacturers, but bad news for Syrians and US taxpayers.

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