World

09.05.13

Charlie Rangel: Why I Oppose Syria Strikes

Instead of getting involved in a costly war, the president should combat poverty, gun violence, and inequality at home. By Rep. Charles Rangel and Michael Shank.

America seems increasingly inclined to engage in a new military conflict every few years, faced with a new populace to defend, a new democracy to design, and a new dictator to dethrone.  We intend to wage a so-called "limited war," when there is, in fact, no such thing.  It is unfortunate that we don't give enough thought on why and how we decide to get involved, and who we send into harm's way when we do.

America’s involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, by no means, have been limited wars.  Instead they are protracted, intractable conflicts worsened by our intervention. Wars, by nature, are unpredictable. Once a war is started, the reaction cannot be controlled.

What enables this war-friendly philosophy is the fact that there is no military draft to dodge.  Our soldiers are signed up and ready to go, so there’s no American public to convince because so few have any skin in the game. Nor is it necessary to do because the president may decide to proceed without war authorization from Congress, something several presidents have done before, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.

We applaud President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for U.S. involvement in Syria. However Syria is not an American problem; it is an international problem requiring an international solution.  Without question, the Arab League, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, should all be at the table talking about what to do with this regional conflict that is being conducted as a proxy war.

What enables this war-friendly philosophy is the fact that there is no military draft to dodge.

Moreover, we need not add U.S. weaponry to the Syrian conflict. We have seen enough killing; we don’t need to increase the casualties, especially at a high cost to America’s taxpayers.  For every Tomahawk missile America might use in Syria—at cost estimates ranging from $607,000 to $1.4 million or more, the total costs will likely exceed Libya’s bill of over $1 billion in a "limited war," or in the billions according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey for extended operations—consider how we could better use those monies to win hearts and minds abroad or help Americans here at home.

Imagine if the urgency and eagerness, which now characterizes Washington’s ramp-up for war with Syria, was the same tenor and tone applied to issues of national security here at home and the problems impacting real Americans on a day-to-day basis?

Imagine if the Senate and House committees would come back early from August recess to discuss America’s food insecurity problem, ready to relieve the 50 million Americans living in food-insecure households who do not know where their next meal would come from. How patriotic that would be.

Imagine if the administration and Congress reached a bipartisan consensus on the poverty and income inequality crisis in America, where one out of every two Americans is living in poverty or low-income. We are at historic levels here, with poverty rates not seen since the 1960s and income inequality gaps not seen since the Great Depression.  Now that’s a real security problem. 

Imagine if the U.S. government—its executive, legislative and judiciary branches —came together to stop weapons trafficking, improve gun safety, and radically reform our criminal justice system so that mass incarceration was no longer a scourge on our society, inhibiting the potential of millions of Americans and further fettering economic productivity.  That’s how we can truly keep Americans safe.

There is a crisis in America that few in Washington are acting on with urgency. There are weapons being mightily misused in America.  There are deaths by the hundreds on a daily basis in America.  The only new war we need at this point is a war on our poverty, a war on our income inequality, and a war on food insecurity. 

Imagine if we waged these kinds of wars instead.  Now that’s a real national security agenda.