The Pentagon estimates that the cost of war since the fateful terror attacks on 9/11 rounds out to $1.5 trillion, yet experts maintain that this figure wildly underestimates the true financial burden of perpetual war.
“After 16 years, should the taxpayers of America be satisfied we are in a ‘stalemate?’ I don’t think so,” the late Sen. John McCain said in 2017.
The Pentagon’s $1.5 trillion figure purports to cover the time period from September 11, 2001, until March 31, 2018. While this may seem like a large sum of money, it’s only about twice the 2017 Pentagon budget of $700 billion. About $1.5 trillion might be a reasonable ballpark estimate for war spending in the past few years, but to suggest it as the gross cost of 17 years of bombings; costs per hour to fly military aircraft; supplies for personnel overseas; costs of lost, damaged and stolen equipment; soldier pay; and more is almost an offense to reason.
Literally 10 years ago, in 2008, Harvard’s Linda Blimes and Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz found that the cost of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts alone totaled $3 trillion. And now the Pentagon would have credulous news outlets like CNBC believe that 17 years of endless wars in the Middle East and South Asia have run a tab of a mere $1.5 trillion.
The “Costs of War” study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs estimates that from 2001 to 2017, Congress appropriated $4.35 trillion for war and war-related expenses. Moving through fiscal year 2018, that figure surged to $4.6 trillion. Both figures, as Brown’s report authors note, do not take into account future expenses for medical and disability coverage for veterans of the Global War on Terror, which the study forecasts will cost $1 trillion.
So what’s included in Brown’s study that is absent from the DoD report?
For one, Brown’s study includes spending on the Department of Homeland Security. DHS was set up under then-President George W. Bush’s administration in November 2002 as part of the Homeland Security Act. Brown’s report states that spending on DHS for “prevention and response to terrorism” adds up to about $783 billion since the inception of the department.