Last week, President Barack Obama’s push for authorization to use military force against Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons in his country’s civil war hit a roadblock.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to seize Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles was a partial reason for halting Obama’s march to military action. The primary factor, however, was that as Congress was away on recess, both Republican and Democratic members heard from the constituents at town hall meetings and other public appearances by overwhelming margins not to support that authorization.
And for most of late August and early September, Alabama’s congressional delegation remained on the sidelines. In their public appearances around the state, they expressed their hesitations to support or not support Obama’s proposed actions.
“Despite my serious doubts about the wisdom of military action in Syria, I have been careful not to cast a final judgment on this decision before seeing all the facts and giving the administration a chance to make its case,” Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said last week.
Exercising discretion before supporting military action is certainly a wise move. But Alabama’s delegation missed an opportunity to use the president’s pleas for military action to stress the importance of Pentagon funding, especially as sequestration that was part of the 2011 Budget Control Act stands to threaten defense spending, which will have an impact on the state.
According to a state-by-state breakdown put out by the Obama White House, an estimated 27,000 civilian Department of Defense employees are slated to be furloughed, resulting in gross pay reductions of nearly $177 million in Alabama.
In addition to that, the U.S. Army base operating budget within the state is slated to be reduced by $91 million, hitting Alabama’s major three Army bases — Ft. Rucker near Ozark, East Alabama’s Anniston Army Depot and Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. And Alabama’s lone Air Force base, Maxwell-Gunter AFB in Montgomery is lined up for $8 million in base operating cuts.
What members of Alabama’s congressional delegation could have done, particularly the two members who have established themselves as defenders of military spending in Alabama — Roby and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa — was get in front of a proposal House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. had touted.
McKeon would have attached language to the authorization to strike Syria to fully fund the Pentagon, restore the sequester cuts, or at minimum set aside funding for the Syrian operation.
Even just having U.S. warships lined up in the Mediterranean Sea and near the Middle East at the ready in the event President Obama decides to strike Syria, with or without congressional authorization, comes at an extra taxpayer cost of $27 million a week.
At a time when the Pentagon and members of Congress are looking at ways to scrape together nickels and dimes in the midst of sequestration, just flexing military muscle alone will come at the cost of something within the Department of Defense.
And if or when the United States were to actually strike, whether it is “unbelievably small” as Secretary of State John Kerry had categorized it, even lobbing a handful of Tomahawk missiles at targets in Syria will come at $1.1 million per missile.
Closer to home, a budget proposal has the U.S. Navy cutting down the Littoral Combat /Ship program down from a fleet of 52 ships to 24 ships. And although Mobile lacks congressional representation in the U.S. House currently (thanks, Jo Bonner), one of Alabama’s two senators has prime opportunity to show that this administration and chronic LCS program opponent Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are willing to use the U.S. naval power in the situations.
They’re not quite as willing, however, to maintain that naval force by championing programs like the shallow-water LCS program, which wouldn’t necessarily be used in the Syrian conflict. But maintaining that fleet and the ability produce those warships could prove vital the next time McCain and others want to beat the war drums.
Rather than sitting on the sidelines with non-committal statements, or even if one thinks Syrian intervention is a bad idea, as Shelby indicated he would vote against any congressional authorization last week, there’s still a case to be made, not only to the Obama administration but the American public in general.
Obama has shown he’ll order force without permission from Congress, as he did in 2011 with Libya at a cost of over $1 billion. And if Obama wants to maintain that ability, more members of Alabama congressional representation needs to say, “Mr. President, you cannot exercise your powers to use military force while at the same time signing on to sequestration budget cuts that will thin-out our armed forces.”
Earlier this year, Roby was able to pull off an unexpected feat to preserve the 908th Airlift Wing’s presence at Maxwell AFB and 37,000 flight hours and 500 training positions from Fort Rucker, both of which were threatened by sequester cuts. Given the current circumstances, the case would seem to make itself for preserving programs.
At the time, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the cuts at Ft. Rucker would have been “catastrophic, resulting in a multi-year impact on aviation flight crew production and readiness.” As the world continues to be a dangerous place with some seeing the need for the U.S. military to play a role for better or for worse, “catastrophic” cuts shouldn’t be in the cards.
There are no better spokespeople for the need to maintain that force than Alabama’s six representatives and two senators who can offer firsthand accounts from here at home of that importance.