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The other side of the Syria debate: Budgeting

September 9, 2013

Secretary of State Kerry let slip an unfortunate truth when he said the planned strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.”  The truth is that the Navy cannot afford an effort on the level of 1998’s four day Desert Fox bombardment of Iraq.  That operation saw over air and sea launched cruise missiles fired, along with over 600 sorties by both Navy and Air Force aviators.  The total cost at the time was estimated at over $500 million.  Just a rough inflation-adjusted calculation puts the current cost of such an operation at over $700 million, but costs to the Navy today are higher than general inflation due to sequester.   In 1998, the Navy routinely kept two aircraft carriers on patrol in the region; today, due to sequester, that number has been cut to one.  The Nimitz was due to rotate home, but is staying on station due to the crisis, and naval sources say every day that the Nimitz delays return costs an extra $25 million.   The Chief of Naval Operations estimates that he will need Congress to pass a supplemental funding bill of at least $2 billion to pay for the action; the only alternative would be to authorize the Navy cannibalize next years accounts.   At the end of the day, a serious operation might end up degrading US military as much as it does that of Syria.

So, if this is going to come to pass, the Obama Administration is going to have to win, not one but two Congressional votes.  The first would be a general authorization, the second would be a supplemental funding bill that would necessarily define the scope of the operation.

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