Home > foreign policy > A Decade After 9/11: True Costs and Lost Lessons

A Decade After 9/11: True Costs and Lost Lessons

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 upon us, establishment commentators and pundits will start lining up to give their retrospectives.  Unfortunately, they are unlikely to grasp the key lessons that should have been learned on that fateful day and the subsequent ten years.  As Doug Bandow notes:

The 9/11 attacks were an atrocity, impossible to justify whatever the grievances of others against America. Terrorism — targeting civilians to achieve political ends — is an immoral means, irrespective of the end.

Yet that catastrophic day demonstrated that Americans were not invulnerable, exempt from retaliation as their government intervened around the world. There are many reasons why some foreigners hate the U.S., and polls indicate that it is primarily Washington’s policies, not America’s people, freedoms, or products, which others loath.

Similarly, while the true costs and impact of war are extremely significant (both human and monetary), it might not seem that way to most Americans who are kept safely insulated and ignorant from this reality by political leaders and an establishment media overly deferential to government interests.  If more people understood the actual price of fighting these endless wars, perhaps we’d be less apt to wage them in the first place.  In an attempt to crystallize the impact of the true costs and what we’ve lost over the past decade, Columbia University Professor and Nobel laureate in economics Joseph E. Stiglitz writes:

…[W]hen…I calculated America’s war costs three years ago, the conservative tally was $3-5 trillion. Since then, the costs have mounted further. With almost 50% of returning troops eligible to receive some level of disability payment, and more than 600,000 treated so far in veterans’ medical facilities, we now estimate that future disability payments and health-care costs will total $600-900 billion. But the social costs, reflected in veteran suicides (which have topped 18 per day in recent years) and family breakups, are incalculable.

Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax “relief” for the wealthy.

Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why America went from a fiscal surplus of 2% of GDP when Bush was elected to its parlous deficit and debt position today. Direct government spending on those wars so far amounts to roughly $2 trillion – $17,000 for every US household – with bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50%.

Image via Reuters 

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