The Spectacle Blog

Syria’s Compelling Costs

By on 9.10.13 | 7:30AM

Yesterday, Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller offered his thoughts regarding my organization’s pivot toward the Syria debate. I appreciate his attention to the matter. Our decision to stand against military strikes in Syria was not entered into lightly. But overwhelming requests from our membership prompted (what we believe to be) a principled stand.

With that said, I beg to differ on one point. As concerns the cost of intervention, Jamie writes:

…there are many reasons to oppose intervention in Syria, but cost is really not one of the best. There is very little chance that the cost of the intervention will have a meaningful impact on our long-term fiscal situation. We need to reform our entitlements, especially Medicare, to save our budgetary ship. What we do in Syria will matter little financially.

I’ll leave it to the chattering class to debate the norms, standards, and laws that determine the scope of kinetic action taken in the Levant. Neither America’s assurance of international order nor our president’s personal credibility are my immediate concern.

Our job is to remind Congress that bright red ink spilled with every swollen Continuing Resolution is more hazardous to Americans than arbitrary red lines drawn overseas.

This is not to say that costs don’t matter. Of course they do. Should we fail to appease the hawks with a meaningless slap on Assad’s wrist, do you really expect McCain, Graham, et al, to simply just pack up the Fifth Fleet and cruise back to Bahrain for some R&R? Or do you think they might accelerate efforts to topple the regime? Suddenly, when pushed toward a more promiscuous projection of American power, the discussion of costs becomes more relevant. 

Jamie will recall that's what impelled the Obama administration to “offset” costs in Libya. They sold $222 million in arms, training and fuel to rebels. Sound investment.

Long before I was a lowly IR doctoral student, let alone tasked to help articulate FreedomWorks’ strategic messaging, I recall Iraqi oil revenues would pay for our efforts in Iraq, capping the taxpayer cost at $50 billion. Poor Lawrence Lindsey got canned for the outrageous suggestion that the entire endeavor might run $200 billion. Now, advocates for war—many of whom pushed for our disastrous nation-building experiment in Iraq—are telling us not to worry about costs.

To be clear: I’m not arguing that strikes in Syria will amount to past misadventures in Iraq. Not even close.

However, without getting mired in distant complexities and dubious partners, let’s remember one fact:

To pretend that military measures won’t cost more than DC “experts” predict ignores everything conservatives (and libertarians) already know about the pre-eternal wisdom of DC “experts.” They always tell us that “X” program will cost “Y” amount—it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Social Security, Medicaid, or ObamaCare. The costs always exceed illusory budget baselines.

Of course, Jamie’s right: “We need to reform our entitlements, especially Medicare, to save our budgetary ship.” Precisely why Congress should focus on what they might actually be able to fix.

In other words, fight red ink at home rather than red lines abroad. 

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