American Taxpayers Spent $1.46 Trillion on War on Terror Since 2001
According to the Department of Defense’s “cost of war” report, obtained and published by the Federation of American Scientists, America has spent $1.46 trillion on the War on Terror since September 11, 2001.
Most of this cost ($1.3 trillion) was incurred during the War in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and the Iraq War (2003-2011), although costs are mounting as America ramps up operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Thus far said operations have cost $120 billion—a relatively paltry sum, although there’s room to grow.
However, the report likely underestimates the true costs, because it fails to include a host of ancillary expenses. According to the International Business Times:
The report’s costs include only direct war-related expenses such as operating and maintaining bases, procuring equipment, and paying for and feeding troops. It most notably does not include the expense of veteran’s benefits for troops who serve in these wars or the intelligence community’s expenses related to Global War on Terror.
The costs imposed by physically wounded, or psychologically scarred veterans are enormous. The Times analysis makes this clear:
According to the Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s 2016 annual benefits report , 1,060,408 veterans are receiving service-related benefits, averaging $15,907 a year. The total annual benefits for Global War on Terror veterans’ benefits are currently $16.8 billion per year, which over the next 40 years would total $674 billion. . .
The report also fails to include the opportunity cost of warfare—that is, what else we could’ve spent the money on.
Where we spend our money matters: a dollar spent fighting over Afghani deserts is a dollar not spent on upgrading America’s broadband network, or on upgrading our infrastructure. That is, we lost out on trillions of investment in productivity-boosting infrastructure and technology—or tax breaks—for nothing.
Consider that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that America’s infrastructure deficit will reach $3.6 trillion by 2020. That is, America will need to invest trillions in rebuilding dilapidated roads, bridges, and dams in the coming years—assuming we don’t let them continue to decay, as we have been doing for decades.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq could have serviced roughly a third of this deficit.
And consider the economic benefit this would have had. Poor infrastructure costs money in lost productivity. For example, traffic jams cost America $124 billion a year—if we include these foregone gains, the cost of war would rise exponentially.
Also remember that this year Hurricanes Harvey and Irma did an estimated $200 billion in damage. How much of this destruction could have been mitigated had we kept our flood control infrastructure up-to-date?
My point is simple: money spent on war is wasted. It’s consumption, not investment. If we’re serious about making America rich again, we need to start treating governance more like business. We need to spend our tax dollars on good investments that will generate revenue in the future, and make our nation more prosperous for our children.
Let our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq be a reminder—not just of the horrors and human suffering that war brings, but the economic ruination it causes.