Why Aren’t We Talking About the Cost of War in Syria?

Ron Paul says we dodge the fiscal realities at our peril

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The Fiscal Times
September 8, 2013

Both President Obama and Congress are giving far too little consideration to the potentially huge costs of a U.S. military strike against Syria, according to longtime civil libertarian and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The financial toll of retaliating against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons is the “one issue that not too many people have been talking about” – but they urgently ought to be, Paul said in an interview on Friday.

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Despite Obama’s assurances that U.S. military action won’t involve “boots on the ground,” Paul warned about the human cost of “so many more lives lost than [lawmakers] are anticipating. They think they can predict these things, but there is a cost – the cost of life and limb, the cost of freedoms at home because of a war atmosphere.”

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“The conservatives are supposed to be watching the budget – instead, they’re talking about the merits of getting involved, whether it’s legal, moral, constitutional, whether there’s a consensus internationally.”

“There was one military general who did make the statement that [the others] ought to have made – this is not going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s going to cost billions,” said the former Texas congressman known for his skepticism about U.S. military involvement on foreign soil.

Earlier, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, advised the administration that aiding the Syrian rebels could cost $500 million a year – with average monthly costs rising to $1 billion. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also mentioned potential costs in his testimony before Congress last week. But fiscal concerns haven’t yet gained real traction.

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“Just because one cruise missile might cost one-and-a-half million dollars –there are a lot more expenses involved” in any military strike, said Ron Paul. There’s “the personnel, moving the Navy around, all the other things… It will be easy [for costs] to go much, much higher.” He compared the difference in costs in the Iraq War: “It was estimated to cost $60 billion – and it turned out to be into the trillions.”

‘BIN LADEN WANTED THIS’
Yet as costly as involvement in Syria could be, even that’s not the real tragedy here, according to Paul.

“This is exactly what [Osama] Bin Laden expected and wanted to happen,” he said on Friday. “He wanted us to get bogged down in the Middle East – before he was killed he said he was surprised at how much we did bog ourselves down there. He wanted to bring on a financial crisis in this country. He brought the Soviets down in this manner, by bogging them down in Afghanistan, and finally the Soviet Union collapsed for financial reasons. So unfortunately, I see [the Syrian developments] as very dangerous, and I think the sooner we get ourselves out of the Middle East, the better.”

Is someone working behind Assad on this – supporting him in some fashion? “Maybe Al Qaeda might be part of his thinking – who knows.”

Paul noted reports that some Syrian rebel groups have poison gas “and that there was an accident. You don’t know what to believe on that. But I think the gas episode only benefits the rebels and not Assad… Strategically, it makes no sense for Assad to [attack Syrian civilians] unless it was an accident. He was winning the war. The rebels are on the run, and that’s when all of a sudden something had to change: They needed Americans to come in to solve this problem of Assad staying in power. So it makes a lot of sense for somebody else to have done this on purpose and to blame it on Assad.”

What does Paul think of President Obama’s move to ask Congress to authorize a limited strike in Syria?

“It makes you wonder just where he’s coming from. Maybe he is honestly torn,” said Paul. “And maybe he’s being pressured by some very powerful special interests that control our government – the military industrial complex and others – to pursue this and not get out of the Middle East. But he just can’t pretend that all of a sudden he wants advice from Congress and the people and that he’s doing this for constitutional reasons. Our presidents don’t care about getting permission – Republican or Democrat. They just do what they want anyway.

“I do think he’s underestimating the sentiment in this country,” Paul added. “The American people aren’t capitulating on this. I think it would be a major victory for the American people if they influence Congress and put enough pressure on the members to not vote for this authority. It may create a great dilemma for the president – but it will be a healthy debate in the right direction. The president just can’t go and expand war without the endorsement of the people.” 

Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.