Taking Stock of the War on Terror after a Decade
As Americans notice that the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is around the corner, many are bearing down in preparation for another attack. Many others are taking stock of the current situation, reconsidering our response to the attacks, wondering whether it has done any good, and analyzing the cost from both a financial and humanist perspective.
Everywhere in the media, we see concern about the rising national debt. Very rarely, however, do we hear this story connected to the parallel story of defense spending. What we could be saying when we talk about the deficit is, "How are we going to pay for these wars we bought and when will we stop running up the bill?"
UAB Political Science professor Dr. Renalto Corbetta told the Birmingham Free Press, "During the last ten years, the cost of the wars has largely been minimized and has flown under the radar screen because the budget for the wars has been handled outside the regular government budget. Because of this most, if not all discussions about recession, government spending, budget deficit, etc. have moved from an incorrect starting point and have been revolving around incorrect benchmarks."
At a cost of more than 1.2 trillion dollars so far, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan comprise our biggest national expense, and it's often taken for granted that there is nothing that can be cut from that part of the budget. The current administration has actually made some cuts to the military budget in the past two years, and recent budget proposal calls for more. However, these cuts do not amount to much of a change to our operations in the Middle East. They essentially reduce funding for things like military bands.
Dr. Renalto says, "There's mixed evidence as to whether wars and defense spending are good or bad for a country's economy. Some economic sectors benefit enormously from war and defense spending." In fact, according to federal records, defense contractors in the state of Alabama alone raked in nearly 8 billion dollars in contracts in 2010. Over the past ten years, Alabama defense contractors have been awarded more than 63 billion dollars. 2.3 billion dollars of that total went to contractors located in Jefferson County. However, Dr. Renalto notes, "whatever economic benefits come from war, they are never equally redistributed in society. Wars increase economic inequalities as the costs are paid for by the general public while the benefits are reaped by a few elites."
The website costofwar.com tracks realtime war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. At press time, the total was more than $1,224,000,000,000. That figure does NOT include regular pay for soldiers or future medical costs for soldiers wounded in the war.
Dr. Renalto adds this: "Wars always have long-term economic and social costs that the CBO, the OMB, the GAO, and economists cannot reasonably and fully estimate. These are the costs that come from servicemen losing their jobs or from not being able to reintegrate after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the loss of labor force resulting from the wars' casualties, from military families' divorces, bankruptcy, and foreclosures, from medical services not covered by VA, etc. These are the most subtle costs. They escape most estimates of any war's costs. They are shouldered by society at large and stretch on for many years after a war has ended."
The Cost in Human Lives
More than 6,000 American troops have died in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Many more Iraqi and Afghani civilians have died. If you count Iraqi and Afghani troops and civilians, the total goes up to more than 100,000 deaths. As the organizations keeping track of such things continue to analyze Iraq war logs from Wikileaks, that number may go up to 150,000.
By the numbers, as of press time (from the Department of Defense):
American military deaths
(from various sources):
Other military deaths
Contractor employee deaths
Journalists killed in Iraq: 348
Academics killed in Iraq: 448
Civilian deaths in Iraq/Afghanistan: 111,215
The Balance Sheet
It seems that the longer the U.S remains involved in these wars, the more muddled their purpose becomes. Nominally, we are fighting terrorism. According to data compiled by the US State Department, more than 130 times as many people have been killed in these wars than in all terrorism attacks combined. In addition, it's been shown that these wars have not only failed to stop terrorist attacks—terrorist group activity has only increased in the face of U.S. aggression. Study after study has concluded that terrorist attacks have increased globally since 9/11.
According to the Global Terrorism Database, there were approximately 1600 terrorist incidents per year, globally in the three years prior to 9/11/2001. During the ten years afterward, this number increased to approximately 4700 incidents per year. Incidents resulting in one to ten casualties have risen from about 400 a year to about 1900 a year. Incidents perpetrated by the various sects of al Qua'ida have increased from fewer than ten a year to almost eighty.
Many of these incidents have taken place in Iraq, and some will infer that this means the war has successfully kept terrorists from attacking us on American soil. While it's true that there have been no successful attacks on the scale of 9/11, many attempted attacks in the U.S. have been averted by law enforcement. Many more have been averted by the incompetence of the terrorists themselves.
See the following websites for more information about the costs of the current wars: