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Understanding the Costs of the War on Terror

Jose Nino Comments

Jessica Corbett of Common Dreams reports that the War on Terror, which the U.S. waged after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, has cost 801,000 lives and $6.4 trillion.

A pair of reports from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs revealed the steep human and financial costs of these military excursions.

According to the Costs of War Project co-director, Brown professor Catherine Lutz, “the numbers continue to accelerate, not only because many wars continue to be waged, but also because wars don’t end when soldiers come home.”

Lutz added that these reports “provide a reminder that even if fewer soldiers are dying and the U.S. is spending a little less on the immediate costs of war today, the financial impact is still as bad as, or worse than, it was 10 years ago.” She argued, “We will still be paying the bill for these wars on terror into the 22nd century.”

The updated Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars report counts the number of “direct deaths” in major war zones. It divides people into civilians — humanitarian workers, NGO workers, journalists and media workers— and military forces — U.S. military members, Department of Defense civilians, contractors, members of national military and police forces, allied troops, and opposition fighters. The direct death totals are divided into six categories: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria/ISIS, Yemen, and “Other.” Added together, the number of civilians who died in these conflicting regions is 335,734. Notably, this report did not include “indirect deaths, namely those caused by loss of access to food, water, and/or infrastructure, war-related disease, etc.”

Costs of War board member and American University professor David Vine argues that indirect deaths are “generally estimated to be four times higher” than those reported. He added, “This means that total deaths during the post-2001 U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen are likely to reach 3.1 million or more —around 200 times the number of U.S. dead.” Vine finished by asking, “Don’t we have a responsibility to wrestle with our individual and collective responsibility for the destruction our government has inflicted?” Vine reveals an unsavory truth that our, “Our tax dollars and implied consent have made these wars possible. While the United States is obviously not the only actor responsible for the damage done in the post-2001 wars, U.S. leaders bear the bulk of responsibility for launching catastrophic wars that were never inevitable, that were wars of choice.”

Indeed, American policymakers have much to answer for regarding foreign policy. Global democratic crusading has been the M.O. of American policy since World War II. The U.S. has become the de facto World Police and is expected to solve all of the world’s problems. Making the world safe for democracy sounds great and all, but it comes with massive costs. The amount of blood and treasure the U.S. must expend along with the collateral damage that inevitably results from these conflicts is daunting. A constant state of war also facilitates the expansion of the state, as the defense sector grows larger and the government gains more power to spy on people. As the great writer, Randolph Bourne proclaimed, “War is the health of the state.”

Although the justification for these wars sounds noble, there are insidious political forces in the shadows behind them. More often than not, these wars are total cash grabs for defense contractors. By intervening non-stop, our political class overstretches American resources and leaves many servicemen vulnerable to attacks in hostile regions. No matter how we slice it, other countries will have to pick up the slack and defend their own interests. The paradigm of foreign interventionism is heavily facilitated by central banking and income taxation. Under a system of sound money and no income tax, it would be much harder for the political class to launch these wars of choice.

Donald Trump was elected in 2016 on a platform to end these conflicts. Sadly, there is strong institutional inertia within his own administration preventing withdrawal from hotspots like Afghanistan. This is where the U.S. finds itself these days. Endless wars run contrary to the Founding Fathers’ vision of a non-interventionist foreign policy that emphasized the avoidance of entangling alliances. The U.S. will need to take a radically different foreign policy path soon, lest it ends up like previous empires which imploded due to their zealous overreach.

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