The Syrian Not-War: Money Issues

Screen shot 2013-09-04 at 1.05.30 PMThe most interesting details in today’s House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria pertained to money.

First, when asked how much this not-war (for a second day, Kerry insisted this isn’t a real war) would cost, Chuck Hagel said it would cost tens of millions of dollars.

But when Alan Grayson asked whether Hagel would commit that he would not need supplemental funding for it (tens of millions are, after all, a rounding error for DOD), Hagel first said it depended on what options the President chose, then said um no, he couldn’t commit to that.

Finally, very early in the hearing, John Kerry intimated that someone (presumably the Saudis, but we’ve got a lot of rich autocrats in the region who want to oust Bashar al-Assad) had offered to pay the entire price of the operation if we would simply do it. But we weren’t going to take that friend up on the offer.

At this point, I’m not even sure the AUMF can pass the Senate (it passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with just a 55% yes vote: 10-7-1, which doesn’t bode will for the Senate’s filibuster customs–though that may not matter). But even if it does, the Administration would be well-served to remember they’ve got a debt limit fight coming up.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

18 replies
  1. grayslady says:

    Kerry and Hagel were embarrassingly bad in the House hearing, and Dempsey wasn’t much better. Money is a huge issue here, but I must say my favorite put down of the meeting was when Rep. Ted Yoho asked (paraphrasing here): “If this is such an important global moral issue, where are the other 138 countries that signed the CW agreement? Why aren’t they all rushing to join us?”

  2. Bay State Librul says:

    The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee just said he would vote for the Resolution if they get rid of the Sequester. What a weird quid pro quo.

  3. What Constitution says:

    @grayslady: Exactly. The US government talking about morality and the laws of war. It’s another line from Air Force One: “You who murdered a hundred thousand Iraqis to save a nickel on a gallon of gas are going to lecture me on the rules of war? Well DON’T.” But then again, if we pull this off and with steely-eyed conviction stand tall against immoral and illegal behavior like governmental use of CW, maybe we’ll then be able to look past “look forward, not back” long enough to enforce the International Convention Against Torture against, oh, you name ’em.

  4. john francis lee says:

    At last, the Demoblican Party stands out as officially the greater of two evils !

    Senate committee approves Syria war resolution

    The vote was 10 for war, 7 against war, and one for cowardice.

    7 Demoblicans and 3 Republicrats were the traitors voting yes – for war.

    Robert Menendez D-NJ.,
    Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.,
    Ben Cardin, D-Md.,
    Jean Shaheen, D-N.H.,
    Chris Coons, D-De.,
    Dick Durbin, D-Il.,
    Tim Kaine, D-Va.,
    Bob Corker, R-Tn.,
    Jeff Flake, R-Az., and
    John McCain, R-Az..

    5 Republicrats and 2 Demoblicans were the heroes voting no – against war.

    James Risch, R-Id,
    Marco Rubio, R-Fl.,
    Ron Johnson, R-Wi.,
    John Barrasso, R-Wy., and
    Rand Paul, R-Ky.,
    Tom Udall, D-NM,,
    Chris Murphy, D-Ct.

    The lone coward voting present was the Demoblican, Ed Markey, D-Ma.

    The Demoblican Party has surpassed the Republicrat Party as the greater of two evils, by ‘better’ than 2:1.

    billmon called it on 31 August

    ‏@billmon1 4h

    @llkoolwhip My guess is there will be so many Dem “yes” votes House GOP leadership will be able to give lot of its people a pass.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When asked what the war would cost, I assume Mr. Hagel understood the question to mean total direct costs, not a Rumsfeldian fantasy of net costs to America after calculating fictionalized contributions from “allies” and from Syria itself. Somehow, I doubt it. His claim of “tens of millions” is laughable. The as-delivered cost of a few cruise missiles would top that. The Libyan campaign cost, for example, more than $100 million its first DAY, while imposing the pre-2003 Iraqi War no-fly zone cost $1 billion a year.

    Mr. Kerry, of all people, should be wary of low-balling the cost of even a single strike, let alone weeks or months of them. Post-attack “continuing operations” would necessarily be included. But never mind. No one on earth is better at obscuring war’s direct and indirect costs than the five-sided House of War across the Potomac.

  6. P J Evans says:

    @earlofhuntingdon:
    ‘Tens of millions’ is what it’s costing to do all the pre-war kabuki. Unless he’s expecting to only have to give costs in units of $10 million. Which is the other possible lie, apart from anyone claiming that we-the-actual-people support the coming fiasco.

  7. P J Evans says:

    if any of the countries in the region want to pay for the war, fine: they can pay for it, but they have to send their own kids to fight, too. They get to have their names attached: no anonymous donations.

  8. C says:

    @grayslady: Well a lot of these people are still stung, as they should be, by the claims that the Iraq War would be “self-funding” once the oil was sold. Moreover at this point all of them are staring either at primary attacks from progressives who are dissatisfied with Dems funding war over schools or Tea Partiers that are pissed about spending generally.

  9. C says:

    @P J Evans: By way of comparison our very very limited (by the standards of “not war”) involvement in Libya is estimated to have cost the U.S. around a billion dollars. This for an action that took only 7 months. (Creepy fact, the Brits may have spent as much as $1.5 billion at a time when they were also pushing austerity cuts to schools and hospitals).
    Much of the cost was probably in the 110 cruse missiles fired on the first day alone each of which, when fully outfitted costs around $1.4 million.

    At these rates if they plan to spend 10s of millions then they could only spend two days firing a half-dozen missiles at most. Unless each one of those is aimed directly at Assad himself they are unlikely to make a major dent in an already devastating and well-funded war.

  10. P J Evans says:

    @C:
    Since they’re going to be using bombers if Mr O gets his way, they’re going to be over that first $10 million in about, oh, five minutes after the go.

  11. Mauimom says:

    I suggest taking a page from the Republicans’ “kill the US Postal Service [by making it pre-fund its pension obligations for 75 years, so it becomes so in the red that the only answer is a private take-over]” book:

    In addition to the “direct costs” — whatever the hell they lie and say THAT is — make them “pre-fund” all the “post-war” costs: veterans’ care; reparations, whatever.

    And for this crew of howler monkeys who just weeks ago were screaming about budget deficits, sequester and insufficient funds for every need in this country: where’s your financial concern now.

    I seem to recall that at some point in the early days of Vietnam, there was a “war tax” passed to help pay for it. Anyone?

    How can these financial responsibility giants be so negligent not to think of that?

  12. C says:

    @Mauimom: The howling about the deficit has never, at least for the “very serious people” in Washington been about absolute spending. That is only for whipping up the base. Even Regan that great “deficit hawk” (who decried giveaways and deficit spending but did so to excess) exempted the military from any cuts and ultimately doubled the size of the government while shifting resources away from domestic programs.

    In Washington, military/intelligence spending (for current activities not for veterans or equipment maintenance) is and always has been sacrosanct and is the only spending that really matters. Any deficit reduction must come from somewhere else.

    As for your war tax. Do you also recall Bush Jr. telling people: “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Actually planning for costs is not on the table.

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