It is not yet known whether President Obama can convince Congress to support his proposed plan to bomb Syria. But whatever the outcome of the congressional vote, his campaign for using military force is a good reminder that both major political parties should put aside domestic politics and properly support America’s troops by ending the military budget cuts under sequestration. Not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense spent $721 billion in 2010. Then the 2011 Budget Control Act reduced defense spending by $400 billion over the next 10 years, and that was before sequestration, which cuts an additional $492 billion over the same decade.
After sequestration, the Pentagon is scheduled to spend just $498 billion in 2014. That is a 31 percent reduction in just four years. American armed forces simply cannot be expected to perform the kinds of missions Obama wants them to handle if he keeps cutting the military budget.
The actual cost of Obama’s plan to bomb Syria will ultimately depend on how many ships, planes, missiles and troops are involved and how long the campaign lasts. The United States Navy deployed 11 ships during the seven-month 2011 Libya bombing campaign at a cost of about $1.5 billion. Obama has said his Syrian campaign will be shorter, but keep in mind that a single aircraft carrier strike group can cost up to $40 million a week when it is in combat operations, compared to just $25 million a week of routine operations.
The military can contain deployment costs because for decades it has built up the capability to project force anywhere in the world at any time. That capability must be rebuilt if the U.S. expects to remain a superpower. There are multiple domestic program cuts that can replace the sequester reductions and cover the costs of rebuilding. The Heritage Foundation recently released a report identifying $42 billion in such cuts. For example, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — where Solyndra was started — could be eliminated entirely. That would save taxpayers $2.3 billion by itself.
The Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service, which gives corporate welfare to multibillion-dollar agribusiness firms by spending American tax dollars promoting their products overseas, should also be eliminated. That would save $1.8 billion.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant has been a favorite pork-delivery mechanism for members of Congress for decades despite zero evidence that a single taxpayer dollar spent through the program has ever helped a single community develop anything meaningful. Eliminating this program would save $3 billion.
Not all of the cuts identified in the Heritage report are in the billion-dollar range (some are as small as $30 million), and some of the programs identified for elimination, although completely ineffective (like Head Start), remain popular with powerful special interests. But there is still plenty of wasteful domestic spending Congress, and Obama can agree to eliminate before another $52 billion is taken away from our troops.