Sequestration and Syria

Members of the federal family — in and out of uniform — have an outsized stake in the what-do-we-do about Syria debate. For several reasons:

First, they are taxpayers too. If civilians are really as highly paid (or overpaid), as critics contend, it stands to reason they are substantial high-bracket taxpayers too. When feds say I-give-at-the-office, they aren’t kidding.

Second, about 26 percent of federal workers are military veterans. So many have been there, done that. Politicians and pundits debate the merits (or not) of “boots on the ground.” But for a high percentage of feds, male and female, they’ve been in those boots.

It is unlikely that any of the major news organizations — from Fox to MSNBC — have a 26 percent veteran workforce. The same for the Congress of the United States. I also would bet that a higher percentage of folks in the federal family either know someone, or have a family member, in uniform.

The laptop warriors and talking heads can debate the pros and cons of boots-on-the-ground. From afar. But for people who’ve been in those boots, or who have a kid in the Marines, it is skin-in-the-game. Real skin too!

Finally, there is the question of what sequestration has done to the civilian workforce and military readiness. More than 650,000 Defense civilians have been hit by furloughs. The Air Force is running half empty on front-line fighters. The Navy — now deploying in the Mediterranean — earlier couldn’t afford to permit aircraft carriers to leave Norfolk for training or replacement.

In a recent piece in The Washington Post, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sequestration has weakened “…the U.S. ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.”

In building the case for a shot-across-the-bow to Syria, lots of people at the CIA, the Pentagon and Homeland Security have been putting in some long hours. Planning for the what if, and then trying to figure out what happens (if whatever happens) leads to bigger problems abroad and maybe at home too.

The White House, which created sequestration (thinking it would never happen), and the Congress, which embraced it and let it happen, are now working “together” on the Syria question.

Let’s hope they get it right this time. They are, after all, overdue.

And while they are debating the go-or-no-go question, here’s hoping they spend more time genuinely looking at the problem, the options and possible outcomes. And less time figuring out how to blame the opposition party if it goes wrong. Or this is just the beginning of a new problem?


Compiled by Jack Moore

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