‘War on terror’ set to surpass cost of Second World War

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

The total cost to America of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the related military operations in Pakistan, is set to exceed $4 trillion – more than three times the sum so far authorised by Congress in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.

This staggering sum emerges from a new study by academics at the Ivy-league Brown University that reveals the $1.3 trillion officially appropriated on Capitol Hill is the tip of a spending iceberg. If other Pentagon outlays, interest payments on money borrowed to finance the wars, and the $400bn estimated to have been spent on the domestic “war on terror”, the total cost is already somewhere between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion.

And even though the wars are now winding down, add in future military spending and above all the cost of looking after veterans, disabled and otherwise and the total bill will be somewhere between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

The report by Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies is not the first time such astronomical figures have been cited; a 2008 study co-authored by the Harvard economist Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, a former Nobel economics laureate, reckoned the wars would end up costing over $3 trillion. The difference is that America’s financial position has worsened considerably in the meantime, with a brutal recession and a federal budget deficit running at some $1.5 trillion annually, while healthcare and social security spending is set to soar as the population ages and the baby boomer generation enters retirement.

Unlike most of America’s previous conflicts moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan have been financed almost entirely by borrowed money that sooner or later must be repaid.

The human misery is commensurate. The report concludes that in all, between 225,000 and 258,000 people have died as a result of the wars. Of that total, US soldiers killed on the battlefield represent a small fraction, some 6,100. The civilian death toll in Iraq is put at 125,000 (rather less than some other estimates) and at up to 14,000 in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, no reliable calculation can be made.

Even these figures however only scratch the surface of the suffering, in terms of people injured and maimed, or those who have died from malnutrition or lack of treatment. “When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues,” Neta Crawford, a co-director of the Brown study, said. Not least, the wars may have created some 7.8 million refugees, roughly equal to the population of Scotland and Wales.

What America achieved by such outlays is also more than questionable. Two brutal regimes, those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, have been overturned while al-Qa’ida, the terrorist group that carried out 9/11, by all accounts has been largely destroyed – but in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is democracy exactly flourishing, while the biggest winner from the Iraq war has been America’s arch-foe Iran.

Osama bin Laden and his henchmen probably spent the pittance of just $500,000 on organising the September 2001 attacks, which killed 3,000 people and directly cost the US economy an estimated $50bn to $100bn. In 2003, President George W Bush proclaimed that the Iraq war would cost $50bn to $60bn. Governments that go to war invariably underestimate the cost – but rarely on such an epic scale.

If the Brown study is correct, the wars that flowed from 9/11 will not only have been the longest in US history. At $4 trillion and counting, their combined cost is approaching that of the Second World War, put at some $4.1 trillion in today’s prices by the Congressional Budget Office.

NOTE:THIS IS LEAD NEWS IN THE INDEPENDENT on 30th June 2011.

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  • Ijaz Khan  On June 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

    America, time to wake up Roger Cohen (Globalist)

    29 June 2011 The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once remarked that the United States was “aesthetically inferior but morally superior” to Europe.
    On the aesthetics, there’s not much doubt. Savoir vivre is a French expression that English finds it needs. Style is many things but one reason Italy elevates it is because it is a fine disguise for lost power. When you’re running the world you don’t have much time for Windsor knots.

    The aesthetics of European cities offer the consolation of the past’s grandeur but seldom the adrenalin of future possibility. It’s wonderful to be lost in Bruges or Amsterdam, Venice or Vienna. The palaces bear no relation to current obligations. They have become outsized repositories of beauty.

    Sleepwalk through them and feel content. The only problem is awakening. One of the things you awaken to is that it’s now almost a century since Europe ripped itself to shreds at Verdun. Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently calculated in The New York Review of Books that British losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, given respective populations, were the equivalent of “280,000 GI’s killed between dawn and dusk.”

    The Great War had its midcentury European sequel. And so power passed to America. It was of a United States ascendant that Berlin wrote, a confident nation assuming responsibility for the world.

    He found it “morally superior” to Europe. I think he meant above all the can-do vigour of a young nation still able to dream big and gather its collective resources to realise great projects. Not for America the moral relativism of tired European powers that, ambition exhausted or crushed, settled for comfort and compromise.

    I was talking about puritanism the other day with an American friend who observed: “Don’t knock it – that’s what got us this country in the first place!” There’s something to that: America has been inseparable from a city-on-the-hill idealism but also from a strong work ethic. When I became an American citizen and had to do an English test the second sentence of my dictation was: “I plan to work very hard every day.”

    But of course you can’t work if you don’t have a job and today that’s the situation of 9.1 per cent of Americans and 24 per cent of US youth. These are shocking numbers that aren’t temporary blips. They reflect shifts in the global economy. Every year developing economies are producing tens of millions of middle class people who can do American jobs.

    What’s most worrying is that the US response to this crisis seems to be one of a country in middle age, a nation that has lost its can-do moral edge, the ability to come together and overcome. In this critical regard President Obama has failed to deliver.

    Berlin observed that Americans were a “2×2(EQUALS)4 sort of people who want yes or no for an answer.” They’ve gotten neither of late, only muddle.

    Bill Clinton recently took Obama to task in Newsweek, proposing 14 measures to create employment. Given that the Clinton presidency saw the creation of 23 million jobs his advice is probably worth a glance even if it grates. I was struck by two underlying themes: the need for an energy policy and for an industrial policy.

    Here’s why: It’s absurd that “climate change” has become an unpronounceable phrase under Obama and that green technology initiatives have been stymied by sterile ideological dispute. Intelligent use of resources makes strategic sense for America whatever your hang-up on global warming. It’s equally absurd that private US corporations, having made $1.68 trillion in profits in the last quarter of 2010 and sitting on piles of cash, are doing fine while job numbers languish and more Americans struggle.

    None of this makes moral or any other sense. America needs an energy policy and an industrial policy. It has to lead in green technology and – purist capitalist reflexes notwithstanding – it must find ways to get corporate America involved in a national revival.

    In these regards it might look to Europe: Copenhagen now heats itself in winter by burning its own garbage; Germany has 6 per cent unemployment in part because the government and corporations have cooperated to keep jobs.

    One of Clinton’s energy ideas related to the cash incentive Obama had offered for start-up green companies. America moved in the past few years, the former president noted, from having less than 2 per cent of the world market in manufacturing high-powered batteries for hybrid or all-electric cars to 20 per cent, with 30 new battery plants built or under construction. Then – wait for it – Republicans in Congress wouldn’t extend the plan because they viewed it as a “spending programme” rather than a tax cut.

    This is madness, the ne plus ultra of American politicians betraying the American people. As Clinton noted, “We could get lots of manufacturing jobs in the same way” – that is, combining green energy and industrial policy.

    It’s past time for Obama to lead in these areas. Americans, Berlin also suggested, are the “largest assemblage of fundamentally benevolent human beings ever gathered together.” But their representatives have lost their moral compass. History tells us where that leads

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