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What this new war will cost us (not just lives and money)

So America is fighting a new war. Bombs are being dropped, “boots” (i.e. soldiers) are on the ground, and a coalition has been formed to fight the enemy(ies). All of this has been set in motion without any vote or debate about whether or not this is something the American people want to do, how far we are willing to go for this cause, and what we are willing to sacrifice in both lives and money.

Pentagon MoneyWithout question American lives are going to be lost in this fight. How many depend on how deeply we ultimately get involved. Fortunately, very few people want to see a replay of the last war in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Another issue is the cost. The Pentagon says that we are spending between $7 and 10 million a day on the war – a figure that is likely to increase. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates the costs could range from $2.4 billion to over $22 billion per year, depending on the number of troops we put on the ground. Other all-inclusive estimates put the costs significantly higher.

Largest Military Budget in the World

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are citing this new war as a reason to increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget.

The United States has by far the largest military budget in the world. Those who say that the Pentagon’s budget has been slashed are being disingenuous at best. We spend more on the military then the next nine countries combined – most of those countries are our allies. The Pentagon’s proposed budget is more than $550 billion for 2015, which keeps the budget at one of the highest levels since WWII.

With Republicans unlikely to raise taxes, the only source of income to pay for the increase cuts to other areas of the budget. That is, cuts to things like education, Veterans’ benefits, infrastructure improvements, cancer research, food and water safety monitoring – you know, the stuff we depend on ever day.

Republicans have already significantly slashed these budgets – as reflected in the steep cuts to SNAP (food stamps), the National Institutes of Health, and even the Secret Service. Now they are hoping to use the war to enact further cuts.

The Pentagon’s Budget is Loaded with Waste

Every year billions of dollars are wasted at the Pentagon. And this new fighting ensures it will only get worse. The Pentagon finances are in such disarray that it can’t even pass and audit – something it has been required (and failed) to do for more than 20 years.

In addition to its base budget, the Pentagon has a separate war budget (called the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO). The war budget was set up to pay for the wars is Iraq and Afghanistan, but in recent years has been used to pay for things not connected to the wars. Last year, Congress added tens of billions more to the war budget than was needed. Now it appears they want to do the same thing again.

Many people consider the OCO war budget to be a slush fund used by Congress and the Pentagon to pay for their pet projects. In fact, the Pentagon has so much money in its war budget slush fund it wants to buy more disastrous F-35 jet planes with it, the most expensive weapon in the world. Never mind that the plane is not yet combat-ready – and won’t be for years.

More Money for the Pentagon Means Less Money for Needs at Home

The fact is the Pentagon doesn’t need any more money. Policymakers who are using the situation in Iraq and Syria to argue for increasing Pentagon spending are playing politics. If they were truly concerned about a lack of funds they would focus on eliminating wasteful Pentagon spending.

So when these Republicans and others talk about giving more money to the Pentagon, what that really means is we’ll have even less money for programs and priorities that are desperately needed at home.

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Syria Strike or No, The Last Thing We Need Is a Bigger US Military Budget

By Ruth Flower, Friends Committee on National Legislation

General Martin Dempsey makes a point to the Senate armed services committee

General Martin Dempsey makes a point to US the Senate armed services committee. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

As soon as the debate began on military intervention in Syria, some members of Congress stood up to demand a bigger Pentagon budget. Without even knowing how much the “limited strike” might cost – from $100 million to $500 million, these representatives were immediately sure that the Pentagon would need more dollars.

Actually, money isn’t the problem. Within the Pentagon’s 2013 budget of $600bn – even under the requirements of sequester – there is plenty of room to fund the “limited strikes” or even a year-long action as described by General Dempsey, chair of the joint chiefs of staff. Even under the sequester law, and after accounting for inflation, the Pentagon now spends about what it spent at the height of the Vietnam war, and close to its peak spending on the Cold War. There is room for adjustments, re-programming, better choices, and savings, but we are hardly in a military budget crisis.

Congress and the Pentagon have choices. For Fiscal Year 2014, the sequester law allows appropriators and agencies to exercise flexibility within their allocations– Congress and the Pentagon can choose to fund the most important programs and projects, and delay or defund whatever is less important. For example:

The Pentagon could delay and divert some of its planned spending on the F-35 joint strike fighter (pdf), the most expensive weapons system in US history. The cost of one plane, at $162m, would likely be enough to fund the “limited strike” that the president originally described. In 2013, the Pentagon is spending $6.18bn on the joint strike fighter program – enough to allow for some flexibility.

Congress could agree not to push additional, unneeded funding on the Pentagon for the production of more M1 Abrams tanks, an investment that the Pentagon did not request and does not want. The extra $236m for these new tanks (in FY14) could easily cover the high estimate of the cost of the president’s “limited strike” proposal with $36bn left over to invest in creating new jobs in the city of Lima, Ohio where a General Dynamics plant produces the tanks.

Congress could save $14bn – enough to take on the entire job of removing chemical weapons from Syria – by foregoing a 12th aircraft carrier, commissioned to be built by Huntington Ingalls, which is still trying to finish the 11th carrier – already the most expensive warship ever built. Does the US need another aircraft carrier? The country already has 10.

Given the small cost of military action in Syria, relative to the impressively large costs of weapons and weapons systems, in addition to billions wasted on faulty contracting and bookkeeping practices in the Pentagon, there’s no need for Congress to consider adjusting or setting aside the modest limits imposed on Pentagon spending by the sequester.

What would be more effective and even less expensive? Don’t attack Syria. Work with the 189 other parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to get the chemical weapons removed from Syria. Talk with Russia, Iran, and China – countries that expressed willingness to ensure accountability under international law. Explore a high-level strategy with the League of Arab States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, political entities that encompass all Muslim-and-Arab majority nations and have leverage over parties to the Syrian civil war. Broaden the debate with the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council to engage with international partners to ensure that standards of international law are upheld.

The world does need to respond to the use of chemical weapons, but the world does not need another war.

Read the article here.

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Twitter Town Hall Tomorrow at 12:00 PM ET on Syria and the Pentagon Budget

Please join us Tuesday September 10th at 12:00 PM ET for a Twitter town hall on Syria and the Pentagon Budget.  We will be hosting Stephen Miles, Campaign Syria and SequestrationCoordinator at Win Without War and William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.  Send your question beforehand to @PentagonChoices and during the town hall to @PentagonChoices, @SPMiles42, and @WilliamHartung.  Please use the hashtag #SyriaCosts

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Senate Foreign Relations Passes Resolution Authorizing Syrian Strikes

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From right to left, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted by 10-7 to revise and pass a resolution authorizing air and naval strikes against Syria.  Two Democrats, Sens. Chris Murphy and Tom Udall, were joined by Republicans Jim Risch, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rand Paul in voting against the resolution.  Two amendments were adopted that were designed to expand the scope of operations.  The first by Sen. McCain amends the statement of purpose to alter the balance of power on the battlefield in the Syrian Civil War.  This would be a major expansion, however the statement of purpose is only a rhetorical exercise, and not enabling language. The second amendment by Sen. Durbin expands authorized military to include stopping Assad from transferring chemical weapons to terrorist organizations.

Not questioned at all during the Senate Hearing was whether or not the intelligence supporting strikes against the Assad regime was conclusive, despite conflicting reports that the Assad regime may not have ordered the attack.  Nor was any mention made of withholding authorization for war until the UN has completed a report on who is actually responsible for the sarin attack.  The amended resolution will now go to the full Senate and the House of Representatives next week when Congress returns from its recess.

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Rethink the March to War

tomahawk-cruise-missile-bosnian-genocideThe urge to “do something” against a murderous regime is powerful, but military action is not without its consequences in either blood or treasure, and must be guided by a strategic purpose.  A well thought out case and reasoned plan of action hasn’t been presented yet to either the American public or Congress who must authorize the use of military force.  It is widely assumed that only a few days of cruise missiles strikes will be directed at Syrian military targets based on the Kosovo air war experience from 1999. If this is in fact the model for how air strikes will commence against the Syrian military, we should all be concerned.

Strikes against Serbian military targets were only supposed to last two to three days, but in the end lasted 78 days and was expanded to civilian infrastructure, meanwhile the Serbian military force in Kosovo escaped almost completely intact.  Against the technological superiority of American munitions, the Serbian army was able to protect its assets with low-tech solutions like microwave ovens and decoys, rendering many strikes by our high-tech arsenal ineffective.  Ultimately it was Russian pressure that drove Slobodan Milošević to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo; not the 78-day NATO bombardment.

It is entirely feasible that several days worth of strikes won’t achieve a meaningful outcome, driving a protracted bombardment engaging more military hardware than just a couple of missiles; a costly and potentially deadly proposition for our pilots.  While it may seem obvious that the Assad regime perpetrated the crime of chemical weapons use, evidence to prove this fact hasn’t been presented yet, and with the false case against Iraq still fresh in our minds, the case against the Assad regime should be air tight.  After 12 years of war, the American public should absolutely be skeptical that our involvement in the conflict would end at two days of missile strikes, and whether those strikes will actually advance a resolution to the crisis there, or provide any meaningful justice for the many crimes committed by the Assad regime.

To read the article, click here.