Money for wars, no for food: US spent nearly $5 trillion on wars since 9/11, report

In another indication of the terrible price paid by working people in the United States and all over the globe for the crimes of US imperialism, a new report from Brown University estimates that Washington has squandered nearly $5 trillion since September 11, 2001 on the wars launched under the pretext of fighting terrorism.


The report coincides with the 15th anniversary of 9/11, with 10,000 US troops still in Afghanistan, 15 years after the US invasion of that country, and an estimated 6,000 in Iraq. Hundreds more special operations forces have been deployed to Syria, where the US is fighting for regime change in a de facto alliance with that country’s affiliates of Al Qaeda—which was supposedly the principal target of the last decade and a half of war.

While the financial costs of these wars are staggering, bordering on the unfathomable, the author of the report, Boston University professor Neta Crawford, correctly places them in their far broader, and more horrifying, context of the trail of blood and destruction that US military operations have left in their wake:

“…a full accounting of any war’s burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger. From the civilians harmed or displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the US and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors.”

Some of these numbers are also quantifiable, and appalling, from the over one million Iraqi lives lost to the US invasion of 2003 to the more than 12 million refugees driven from just the four countries laid waste by US wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. In addition, there are the nearly 7,000 US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with roughly an equal number of private contractors, as well as the 52,000 officially listed as wounded in combat and the untold hundreds of thousands more suffering from traumatic brain injuries, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other mental health problems resulting from multiple deployments in dirty colonial-style wars.

Nonetheless, the report argues persuasively that it is also vital to make a serious and comprehensive evaluation of the real financial costs of these wars.

The overall cost of US imperialism’s wars includes the $1.7 trillion directly appropriated by Congress to wage them as so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This is above and beyond the Pentagon’s base budget, which totals some $6.8 trillion from FY2001-2016.

By defining these wars as OCOs, Congress, together with both the Bush and Obama administrations, has acted as if they are some kind of unforeseeable emergencies that could not be planned for within the government’s normal budgetary process, even as they dragged out for a decade and a half. As a result, they were freed from any kind of normal fiscal accountability, with no taxes or other revenues allotted to pay for them.

In addition to this direct war funding, the report includes the costs of veterans’ medical and disability care, allocations for Homeland Security, interest on Pentagon war appropriations and future costs for veterans’ care.

This last cost is estimated at amounting to at least $1 trillion between now and 2053. The basis for such an estimate is made clear by the presentation of some alarming statistics.

By the end of 2015, more than 1,600 soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan had undergone major limb amputations as a result of wounds suffered in combat. A total of 327,000 veterans of these wars had been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury as of 2014 and by the same year fully 700,000 out of the 2.7 million people deployed to the war zones had been classified as 30 percent or more disabled.

The report points out that Veterans Affairs is the fastest growing department in the US government, with its staffing levels having nearly doubled since 2001 to 350,000 workers. Yet, according to another recent report, it “still lacks sufficient funding to fill thousands of vacancies for doctors and nurses and to finance badly needed repairs to its hospitals and clinics.”

In addition to these costs, the report estimates that, unless Congress changes the way that it is paying for the wars, even without their continuation, cumulative interest on war appropriations made just through FY2013 will amount to a staggering $7.9 trillion by 2053.

The report recalls that as the Bush administration was preparing to launch the war of aggression against Iraq, the administration’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey came under intense fire for estimating that the “upper bound” costs of the war reached between $100 and $200 billion. This estimate was roundly rejected by everyone from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to House Democrats, who put the figure at roughly $50 billion, which it is now clear underestimated the real cost by a factor of 100.

Reflected in these wars, both in the criminality with which they were initiated and fought, and in the way they were funded, are the financial parasitism and socially destructive forms of speculation that pervade the workings of American capitalism as a whole.

By keeping the wars’ costs “off the books” and relying on an “all-volunteer” military to fight them, the US ruling class also hoped to dampen the popular hostility to militarism.

The new report does not attempt to estimate the wars’ broader impact on the economy and the living standards of broad masses of American working people. Another report issued two years ago by Harvard University conservatively estimated that the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars amounted to $75,000 for every American household.

The report points to previous studies indicating that the wars cost tens of thousands of jobs and significantly reduced investment in infrastructure. The vast amount of resources diverted into slaughter and destruction in the Middle East and Central Asia could have funded the $3.32 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says must be spent over the next decade to fix America’s crumbling ports, highways, bridges, trains, water and electric facilities and paid off the entire $1.26 trillion in student debt, with money left over.

Instead, the elected officials of both major capitalist parties have continuously insisted that there is no money for jobs, decent wages, education, health care and other basic necessities, while spending unlimited money on militarism and war, leaving the bill to be paid for through the intensification of austerity measures directed against the working class.

The human and fiscal toll wrought by the wars of the last 15 years are only a foretaste of the global catastrophe that is threatened as US imperialism prepares for far larger wars, with its military escalation focused ever more directly against the world’s second and third largest nuclear powers, Russia and China.

– Official story of September 11 attacks –

The September 11 attacks (also referred to as 9/11) were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage and $3 trillion in total costs.

Four passenger airliners operated by two major U.S. passenger air carriers (United Airlines and American Airlines) — all of which departed from airports on the northeastern United States bound for California — were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Two of the planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex in New York City.

Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed, with debris and the resulting fires causing partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the World Trade Center complex, including the 47-story 7 World Trade Center tower, as well as significant damage to ten other large surrounding structures.

A third plane,American Airlines Flight 77, was crashed into the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) inArlington County, Virginia, leading to a partial collapse of the building’s western side.

The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, initially was steered toward Washington, D.C., but crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers. It was the deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed respectively.

Suspicion for the attack quickly fell on al-Qaeda. The United States responded to the attacks by launching the War on Terror and invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaeda. Many countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist attacks.

Although al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, initially denied any involvement, in 2004 he claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives. Having evaded capture for almost a decade, bin Laden was located and killed by SEAL Team Six of the U.S. Navy in May 2011.

The destruction of the World Trade Center and nearby infrastructure caused serious damage to the economy of Lower Manhattanand had a significant effect on global markets, closing Wall Street until September 17 and the civilian airspace in the U.S. and Canada until September 13. Many closings, evacuations, and cancellations followed, out of respect or fear of further attacks. Cleanup of the World Trade Center site was completed in May 2002, and the Pentagon was repaired within a year. On November 18, 2006, construction of One World Trade Center began at the World Trade Center site.

The building was officially opened on November 3, 2014. Numerous memorials have been constructed, including the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington County, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania




(Bill Van Auken contributed for this report – Content edited for style and length by Alad Von Dari via VOP)