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Bombing Syria will cost Hundreds of Millions of dollars

August 29, 2013 - Ben Klein
I thought this country was broke, that we had to balance the budget and unless we didn't the people who run the government will shut this place down. That there was just no money for schools or education or fixing the bridges and roads we drive on every day.

There's always money for war, apparently.

Defense News "A cruise missile strike against Syria could cost the Pentagon hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons, according to experts and government documents.

Since any type of US military action is expected to last just a few days, the price tag would be similar to costs accrued during the early days of the 2011, five-month NATO operation to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, defense analysts say.

The first few weeks of the Libyan operation cost the US about $600 million. About $340 million of that was directly was to replenish munitions, specifically sea-launched Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missiles and air-launched Boeing Joint Direct Attack munitions, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (T-LAMs) cost about $1.4 million each, according to government budget documents."

That's a lot of money that could be spent on Syrian refugees, humanitarian aid, teachers, schools, pot holes, bridges, hospitals, sewer systems and on and on and on.

Many news outlets covered the 50th anniversary of the March on Washing and Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech and asked just how far this country has come since then, I have not seen King's lesser known "Beyond Vietnam" speech in which he called the U.S. "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

"These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest" and he continued "Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read "Vietnam." It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that "America will be" are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land."

Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy uses Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" to describe how Obama has basically backed himself into a corner.

"What is most striking about this affair is how Obama seems to have been dragged, reluctantly, into doing something that he clearly didn't want to do. He probably knows bombing Syria won't solve anything or move us closer to a political settlement. But he's been facing a constant drumbeat of pressure from liberal interventionists and other hawks, as well as the disjointed Syrian opposition and some of our allies in the region. He foolishly drew a "red line" a few months back, so now he's getting taunted with the old canard about the need to "restore U.S. credibility." This last argument is especially silly: If being willing to use force was the litmus test of a president's credibility, Obama is in no danger whatsoever. Or has everyone just forgotten about his decision to escalate in Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, and all those drone strikes?

More than anything else, Obama reminds me here of George Orwell in his famous essay "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell recounts how, while serving as a colonial officer in Burma, he was forced to shoot a rogue elephant simply because the local residents expected an official of the British Empire to act this way, even when the animal appeared to pose no further danger. If he didn't go ahead and dispatch the poor beast, he feared that his prestige and credibility might be diminished. Like Orwell, Obama seems to be sliding toward "doing something" because he feels he simply can't afford not to.

Sad, but also revealing."

Sad indeed, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mentions in this editorial published yesterday entitled "Stand down: The United States has no place in Syria's civil war".

"It is indisputable that Syria, a once viable country that is now the scene of uncontrolled fighting, has turned tragic. The most poignant part of the disaster may have been the damage done to the country's children, many of whom have been killed or displaced from their homes, with catastrophic results for their general well-being."

"Finally, 61 percent of Americans -- more than three out of five -- oppose U.S. involvement in the war in Syria, no doubt due to the financial and human cost. Does Mr. Obama really want to go to war again without the public's support? His position on entering Syria should be, "Not yet, if at all" -- no matter how much pressure he has to absorb."

You should also feel so much better now that these completely trustworthy government officials say we should attack Syria.

From the Wall Street Journal

"House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) in a letter on Wednesday demanded a clear explanation of any military action against Syria before it starts, and criticized the president's level of consultation with lawmakers.

Separately, 116 House lawmakers—98 Republicans and 18 Democrats—signed a letter to Mr. Obama demanding that he seek congressional authorization for a military strike.

U.S. officials have met with some congressional leaders already. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said she was persuaded by the evidence.

"I have been briefed by the intelligence community on last week's chemical weapons attack in Syria and I believe the intelligence points to an attack by the Assad government, not the opposition," she said. "These actions cannot be condoned."

White House officials have said the intelligence tied the Assad government to the attack."

Meanwhile the Associated Press is running entitled "Intelligence on weapons no 'slam dunk'

AP sources: Intelligence on weapons no 'slam dunk' By Kimberly Dozier Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no "slam dunk," with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.

President Barack Obama declared unequivocally Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible, while laying the groundwork for an expected U.S. military strike.

"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama said in an interview with "NewsHour" on PBS. "And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."

However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase "not a slam dunk" to describe the intelligence picture — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk" — intelligence that turned out to be wrong.

A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats — including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime's chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders has said an Aug. 21 rock strike killed 355 people.

A three-page report released Thursday by the British government said there was "a limited but growing body of intelligence" blaming the Syrian government for the attacks. And though the British were not sure why Assad would have carried out such an attack, the report said there was "no credible intelligence" that the rebels had obtained or used chemical weapons.

Like the British report, the yet-to-be-released U.S. report assesses with "high confidence" that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks that hit suburbs east and west of Damascus, filled with a chemical weapon, according to a senior U.S. official who read the report.

The official conceded there are caveats in the report and there is no proof saying Assad personally ordered the attack. There was no mention in the report of the possibility that a rogue element inside Assad's government or military could have been responsible, the senior official said.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence report publicly.

Relevant congressional committees were to be briefed on that evidence by teleconference call on Thursday, U.S. officials and congressional aides said.

Administration officials said Wednesday that neither the U.N. Security Council, which is deciding whether to weigh in, nor allies' concerns would affect their plans. But the complicated intelligence picture raises questions about the White House's full-steam-ahead approach to the Aug. 21 attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb, with worries that the attack could be tied to al-Qaida-backed rebels later.

Intelligence officials say they could not pinpoint the exact locations of Assad's supplies of chemical weapons, and Assad could have moved them in recent days as the U.S. rhetoric increased. But that lack of certainty means a possible series of U.S. cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly chemical attack.

Over the past six months, with shifting front lines in the 2½-year-old civil war and sketchy satellite and human intelligence coming out of Syria, U.S. and allied spies have lost track of who controls some of the country's chemical weapons supplies, according to the two intelligence officials and two other U.S. officials.

U.S. satellites have captured images of Syrian troops moving trucks into weapons storage areas and removing materials, but U.S. analysts have not been able to track what was moved or, in some cases, where it was relocated. They are also not certain that when they saw what looked like Assad's forces moving chemical supplies, those forces were able to remove everything before rebels took over an area where weapons had been stored.

In addition, an intercept of Syrian military officials discussing the strike was among low-level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack back to an Assad insider or even a senior Syrian commander, the officials said.

So while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was "undeniable," a chemical weapons attack had occurred, and that it was carried out by the Syrian military, U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad's orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. That suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report, according to the official who described the report.

Ideally, the White House would prefer more clarity on all those points in the intelligence provided to it.

The U.S. has devoted only a few hundred operatives, between intelligence officers and soldiers, to the Syrian mission, with CIA and Pentagon resources already stretched by the counterterrorism missions in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the continuing missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.

The quest for added intelligence to bolster the White House's case for a strike against Assad's military infrastructure was the issue that delayed the release of the U.S. intelligence community's report, which had been expected Tuesday.

The uncertainty calls into question the statements by Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.

"We know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons," Kerry said. "We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place."

The CIA, the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, many U.S. lawmakers believe there is reasonable certainty Assad's government was responsible and are pressing the White House to go ahead with an armed response.

"Based on available intelligence, there can be no doubt the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on the Syrian people," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Short of putting troops on the ground, I believe a meaningful military response is appropriate."

Others, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed serious concern with the expected military strike.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that all the evidence points in one direction.

"There is no evidence that any opposition group in Syria has the capability let alone the desire to launch such a large-scale chemical attack," Hague told British broadcaster Sky News.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament to debate the issue Thursday.


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