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September 14th / 15th, 2013

"Syria and Operation WTF?"

As I am writing this column on Sunday, it’s still not clear whether Congress will support President Obama’s proposed strike on Syria, but even if they don’t, Secretary of State John Kerry has already indicated that Obama could act on his own. Nevertheless, the approval process has been so protracted that we’ve lost the element of surprise altogether, which gives Assad more time to shore up his defenses and his allies. But timing is only one issue. The strike itself as proposed is fraught with problems, and there are four reasons why it should be opposed.

Obama's face framed inside an outline of Syria with the letters WTF superimposed First is the inevitable death toll.

Our misguided attacks on Iraq, which began in 2003, resulted in the deaths of nearly 1 million innocent men, women, and children. There is no reason to doubt that such collateral damage could also result from a war with Syria.

Second is the matter of retaliation.

Government intelligence (an oxymoron if ever there was one) confirmed late last week that Iran was prepared to use force against us should we attack Syria. Meanwhile Putin has moved Russian troop ships into the Mediterranean Sea to support Assad if necessary.

Third, foreign-relations experts are warning that our intervention in the Syrian civil war could bring about even worse conditions than exist under the current regime.

According to the Cato Institute, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey warned, “We could inadvertently empower extremists, or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.” Let’s also not forget that Syrian rebels hate us as much as the man they are fighting. That’s because they blame the United States for failing to depose Assad 21 months ago, which might have prevented the deaths of 40,000 fellow countrymen.

Fourth, there’s the matter of funding.

In a July 19 letter to Sen. Cal Levin, Gen. Dempsey estimated the financial cost of getting involved in Syria. For example, Dempsey reported that to train and assist Syrian rebels would cost American taxpayers $500 million. Establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone will cost another $500 million. The cost to control chemical weapons could cost $1 billion per month, as would establishing and maintaining a buffer zone where forces would train. In all, Dempsey warned that we would be spending billions of dollars each month in Syria.

I’m sorry that thousands of Syrians have died in that nation’s civil strife, but we simply cannot afford to get involved in another war right now. We’re still paying for our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan which, before long, will total $2 trillion. Meanwhile, more than 11 million Americans are still unemployed. Millions of families can’t afford to pay healthcare premiums which have doubled in the past 10 years.

The elderly and the poor often must choose between food and medicine, thanks to Obama’s deal with Big Pharma to keep cheaper drugs from reaching our shores. And local and state governments are continuing to cut budgets for public safety, education and human services. Knowing all this, one wonders why our president and other elected officials are even considering putting us through another war. has one theory. The website reports that Senators voting to authorize the use of force in Syria receive, on average, 83 percent more money from defense contractors and other defense interests than senators voting against it. Sen. John McCain, who has been quite vocal in his support for Obama’s proposal, receives more money from defense contractors than any other member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. McCain said it would be catastrophic if we didn’t attack Syria, but perhaps he meant catastrophic for his own wallet.

My personal theory is that presidents are addicted to war. Over the past 22 years, four different presidents have gotten us involved in more than 90 military actions. George Bush the elder had his wars with Iraq and Bosnia. Clinton poked his big stick at Haiti, Libya, Liberia, Bengazi, Albania, Senegal, Afghanistan and Serbia. And George W. Bush launched a 10-year war against Iraq because he thought that’s where the 9/11 terrorists had come from, and that Saddam had weaopns of mass destruction.

Presidents also love to give each military action a snappy name. We’ve had Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Deliberate Force, Operation Shepherd Venture, Operation Neptune Spear... the list goes on. These jingoistic slogans are designed to evoke patriotism and blind support. But I think such titles should more accurately reflect how most Americans feel about having their tax dollars spent to bomb and rebuild foreign countries. That’s why I want Obama to call the Syria war, “Operation What the F*ck?”. It’s catchy and to the point. Plus, McCain won’t know what WTF means, so maybe he’ll be less likely to fund it. Mission Accomplished!