America Has Wasted Nearly $5 Trillion on Wars Since 9/11
September 17, 2016
Eric Levitz / New York Magazine & Naomi LaChance / The Intercept
Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has spent $3.6 trillion on wars. When you add in the amount of war funding that the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security have requested for next year -- and then the estimated costs of our present commitments to veterans -- the overall price tag comes to $4.79 trillion, according to a new report by Brown University's Watson Institute.
America Has Spent Nearly $5 Trillion on Wars Since 9/11
Eric Levitz / New York Magazine
(September 14, 2016) -- Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has spent $3.6 trillion on wars. When you add in the amount of war funding that the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security have requested for next year -- and then the estimated costs of our present commitments to veterans -- the overall price tag comes to $4.79 trillion, according to a new report by Brown University's Watson Institute.
For $4.79 trillion we could forgive all outstanding student-loan debt in the United States, provide universal preschool to all American children, buy ourselves a high-speed rail system -- and still have a couple trillion left over for a rainy day.
What, precisely, did we decide to buy instead?
The ostensible answer is that we purchased greater national security. After all, the vast majority of that war funding was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan -- interventions that were launched to combat the threat of terrorism.
But a recent note from the Soufan Group, a strategic security firm, argues that the threat posed by terrorism is greater today than it was 15 years ago:
Fifteen years later, the geopolitical consequences of the September 11, 2001 attacks have not diminished with each passing anniversary. Quite the opposite, the global terror threat has compounded and cascaded.
In the aftermath of the deadliest terror attack in history, the US and its allies laid out several goals and policy responses; chief among the goals was the prevention of another 9/11-scale attack; the denial of terrorist sanctuaries such as Afghanistan; the destruction of al-Qaeda; and countering the violent extremist ideology of bin-Ladinism.
As the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, only one of these goals -- the prevention of an attack nearing the scale of 9/11 -- has been met. While the prevention of another such attack is a significant achievement, many of the other post-9/11 concerns are considerably worse now than in 2001.
Now, a firm that sells strategic security services has plenty of incentive not to conclude that the war on terror has already been won. But it's hard to dispute the assertion that extremist ideologies and terrorist strongholds have become more prevalent in the last 15 years, even as America has spent trillions trying to counter them.
And, of course, the true costs of our counterterrorism efforts are measured in more than dollars.
Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion
Naomi LaChance / The Intercept
(September 14, 2016) -- The total US budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University's Watson Institute. That's the highest estimate yet.
Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.
The amount of $4.79 trillion, "so large as to be almost incomprehensible," she writes, adds up like this:
* The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017
* Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion.
* The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion.
* Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion.
* Estimated future costs for veterans' medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.
* And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion)
Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.
There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, she writes. For instance, "I have not included here state and local government expenses related to medical care of veterans and homeland security. Nor do I calculate the macro economic costs of war for the US economy." She also notes that she does not add the cost of war for other countries, nor try to put a dollar figures on the cost in human lives.
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