Is Syria a Pay-to-Play Conflict?

A quick look at whether defense money played a role in Congress authorizing Obama's war in Iraq and Syria.


Just a few months ago, hardly anyone was clamoring for American involvement in Syria. The drumbeat of casualties in the country’s civil war had become monotonous, and any intervention was likely to have a strategic rather than a humanitarian rationale. Yet engaging in the conflict will be a huge boon for one group: the American arms industry.

On Sept. 17, the House of Representatives granted President Barack Obama’s request to arm rebel groups in Syria by a vote of 273 to 156. Previously, Washington had been reluctant to go beyond (presumable) covert and humanitarian aid in the Syrian theater, but various new developments — among them the apparent threat of the Islamic State, and a sway in public opinion — pushed the White House and Congress to act.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I do wonder whether the arms industry put its thumb on the scale. Even a short involvement in Syria will be exceedingly profitable; the first round of air strikes this week reportedly cost $79 million, more than India’s mission to Mars. To "train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition," as the amendment voted on by the House states, could cost much more, perhaps as much as $500 million.

So the arms industry had a lot on the line in Roll Call Vote 507. In the end, it passed easily. But those who voted for the amendment may have been much more beholden to the industry than those who did not. On average, the "Yea" voters had received more than $36,000 in contributions from the defense sector during the last campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The "Nay" voters had taken only about $22,000.

Here are the complete tallies from the center’s website. Representatives who joined in the middle of the current Congress are not included in the figures and are marked with a "–." You can judge for yourself whether money played any role in the vote:

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