Sequestration Anxiety? War Costs Could Have Paid for all Those Cuts

If the U.S. had not launched two full-scale post 9/11 invasions, our budget woes might all be solved—and a half million people would be alive or unmaimed.
Congress is struggling to avert $1.2 trillion in spending cuts while studies show that $1.283 trillion has gone to fighting the post-9/11 conflicts. (Photo: Ryan D. McLearnon/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
Mar 1, 2013· 2 MIN READ
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

No one likes a told-you-so or a Monday-morning Commander in Chief, but with Congress and the president bickering over which essential government programs to cut due to a looming budget sequester, it’s no time to worry about being popular.

The irritating question begs to be raised: Would the United States be in a budget crisis today if it hadn’t thrown so much of the public purse at overseas conflicts during the past dozen years? And were those foreign war expenditures worth the price?

The stated purpose of the post-9/11 wars was to eliminate the perceived threat posed to America from al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Afghanistan and Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. The conflicts displaced the equivalent of the populations of Oregon and Connecticut. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, and a lesser number of soldiers, have been killed. And beyond the human cost, more than $1 trillion in taxpayer funds have gone to increasing homeland security, overseas fighting and treating injured veterans.

The cost of the nation’s wars is being overshadowed in Washington these days as lawmakers flounder in a financial quandary of their own making. The Budget Control Act, passed in 2011 and signed by President Obama, mandates cuts to federal spending of $1.2 trillion over nine years starting in 2013. Eighty-five billion dollars of those across-the-board cuts are set to kick in on Friday, March 1, which has Washington in a shambles.

Those billions sound like big numbers by almost any standard of measure, but not when stacked against the financing of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brown University’s study of the costs of the post-9/11 conflicts puts the war bill, including the price of treating wounded veterans for years to come, at nearly $4 trillion.

Of that astronomical number, only 1 percent was for medical care for veterans and 5 percent for diplomacy and foreign aid programs.

A 2011 study by the Congressional Research Service found that Congress has approved $1.283 trillion for “military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.”

Of that astronomical number, only 1 percent was for medical care for veterans and 5 percent for diplomacy and foreign aid programs. Meanwhile, military operations in Iraq received about $806 billion and the war in Afghanistan $444 billion.

The drone program’s budget contains one telling figure from the military expenditures. A study by Time magazine found that $30 billion in taxpayer money had gone to keep the drones in the air since 2001. Over the next decade, as the Pentagon advances a plan to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned drones, that number will rise to $37 billion for a 10-year period.

Of course, these numbers only tell part of the story, the dollars part.

Brown’s researchers estimate that some 313,890 individual human beings have died in the post-9/11 conflicts. That includes an estimated 152,280 to 192,550 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

The rest of the total is made up of allied uniformed troops, American contractors, national military and civil police in the war zones, opposition forces, journalists, and humanitarian and NGO workers.

Of the more than 300 thousand dead, 6,630 are American service members. Another 50,000 troops were wounded, and thousands more are suffering from emotional trauma related to combat.

If Congress is searching for places to cut budgetary corners, war spending is as good a place as any to start looking.

How could you have better spent the money and lives consumed by America’s post 9/11 conflicts? Or was that the best use of those resources? Give an accounting in COMMENTS.