Blood & Treasure in Syria?

The phrase “blood and treasure” refers to the costs of war, both in lives and resources lost.  Consider the cost of a US led “…limited and politically tailored response”1 to President Bashir al-Assad’s mass killing of civilians in Syria.  What a limited and politically tailored response would look like is unclear, but it will be costly.

According to military sources, Tomahawk missiles are the weapon of choice for this type of action.  They have been widely used by the US in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya.  Over 2,000 have been launched since their introduction in the early 1980s, and most recently over 200 were launched in Libya in 2011.  Tomahawk missiles are made by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, and cost approximately $1.4M each.2  Tomahawk missiles are about 20 feet long and two feet in diameter.  They travel about 550 mph, have a range of about 1550 miles, and carry a half ton of explosives.  Given the patterns of previous attacks, sources suggest that a limited and politically tailored attack would last only a couple of days and would include about 200 Tomahawk missiles.

President Obama has admitted that such an attack would not eliminate the possibility of further attacks by Assad on civilians, but it is a punitive strike against the Syrian government for the use of the neurotoxin sarin against its own citizens.  Military experts tout the accuracy and precision of the guidance systems for the Tomahawk and the potential for minimal collateral damage.  However, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote Senator Carl Levin on July 19th “Retaliatory attacks are also possible, and there is a probability for collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners inside the country.”3  No matter how precise our missiles are there will be loss of life of nonmilitary personnel.  Given the past actions of the Assad regime, one can only speculate what might follow a limited and politically tailored military response by the US.

In addition to costs in blood, there costs of treasure in any military action, but these costs are not publicly discussed by politicians trying to sell military action.  If we consider just the cost of the Tomahawk missiles that will likely be used, the US will spend almost $300M in two days.  This is an astonishing sum, although paltry by Department of Defense standards, and is more than enough for fund the entire Meals on Wheels program ($205M) for the entire United States for one year  Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers meals to about 2.5M people who are not able to purchase or prepare their own meals and is a primary source of nutrition for many seniors living on fixed incomes.

In the same letter (referenced above) to Senator Levin, General Dempsey also noted that depending on what happened after an initial strike (e.g., implementing a no-fly zone, creating buffer zones, securing the chemical weapons) further action could cost at least $1 billion a month.

Given that the proposed military action would not stop Assad and his regime from using chemical weapons in the future, from retaliatory strikes against civilians, or from initiating strikes against neighboring countries, it is difficult to see any justification for this plan.  Such military action will mean significant loss, not only in treasure, but also in the blood of innocent civilians and is exactly the type of behavior that led to the hatred of the US by so many in the Middle East and around the world.

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[1} Secretary of State John Kerry, 30 August, 2013, Washington, DC

[2] http://www.nbcnews.com/science/how-tomahawk-cruise-missiles-send-message-syria-8C11022222

[3] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-27/tomahawk-cruise-missiles-likely-in-u-s-strikes-on-syria.html

EO Smith
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EO Smith

Interests include biological anthropology, evolution, social behavior, and human behavior. Conducted field research in the Tana River National Primate Reserve, Kenya and on Angaur, Palau, Micronesia, as well as research with captive nonhuman primates at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Institute for Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya.
EO Smith
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