Bigger Fish to Fry

With the debt ceiling looming, there are better things Obama can spend money on than bombing Syria.

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President Barack Obama, shown Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the White House in Washington, is seeing declining approval ratings this summer.
President Barack Obama, shown Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the White House in Washington, is seeing declining approval ratings this summer.

Saved by the bell! The Russian offer of a settlement of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis came just in the nick of time for the United States and President Obama

The Russian intervention was a godsend for the chief executive and gave him a much needed timeout. Whatever support that existed in Congress for the attack authorization was receding faster than Rudy Giuliani's hair. The drop off in support in Congress was a reflection of growing public opposition to an attack against Syria.

The effort that began last week by the Obama administration to sell the attack got off to a bad start. The Pew Research Center conducted two national polls back to back. Pew did the first poll over Labor Day weekend and the second survey late last week. In that short period of time, public opposition to an attack had risen from 48 percent to 63 percent.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

The debate over Syria has sucked all the oxygen out of the system. No one was discussing the real crisis which would be hitting the debt limit in a month. In that event, there won't be money for cruise missiles or anything else for that matter. To get the increase in the federal budget limit, the president may have to make compromises and budget cuts that will threaten his support with liberal Democrats.

It was clear from the surveys that Democrats opposed an attack. Less than half of the Democrats in a Gallup poll conducted last weekend supported military action against Syria. The president can't afford to alienate the base whose support he needs for the upcoming budget battle. The president also has major legislative battles on immigration and health care that will require the support of a unified Democratic Party.

Before we can help anybody else, we have to take care of ourselves. In foreign policy, those who have the gold make the rules. Tuesday night the president stated the situation in Syria was important to the national security. National security is not about military force, it's about the economy, stupid. The U.S. has spent about $2 trillion in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 which is a healthy slice of the current federal budget deficit. We don't have much to show for this great financial effort in the Middle East. The price paid by the U.S. is sluggish economic growth. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the assault would cost "tens of millions." Secretary Hagel's estimate was at best fuzzy math. Each cruise missile that we launch against Syria would cost the American taxpayer $1.4 million dollars. A strike against Syria would require the launch of at least 100 cruise missiles, so a cost of $140 million. That figure does not include the costs of fuel for warships or airplanes. 

The best way to insure our national security is to prepare young people for brutal international economic competition. We should use that money to educate young kids and college students. Former President Dwight Eisenhower, a career soldier, once said that "every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired" was "a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

President Obama has bigger fish than Syria to fry. The train to the fiscal cliff leaves the station soon and it will be a bumpy ride.

  • Read Lara Brown: Obama’s Syria Speech Shows the President Is Just Oz Behind the Curtain
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