Who paid the price of War on Terrorism?

War on Terrorism

The War on Terrorism began with the September 11 attacks in the United States and is still ongoing today. The military campaign was launched by the then-President George W. Bush and has expanded to include the Afghanistan War and the War in Iraq. As of Financial Year 2020, US $2.4 trillion has been added to the debt of the effort. According to some sources, the total expenditures have possibly racked up to some $6 trillion. 

The United States has been funding these operations. Expenditures so far have mostly been on two aspects: the Overseas Contingency Operations and the base budget for the Department of Defense. The costs of maintaining the War on Terrorism grows higher as the number of forces involved does. New military technologies have been developed, including the F-35 fighter jet and drones. These are all placed under the United States military budget. Even though there are other departments that have also played roles in the War on Terrorism, such as Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, State Department and Homeland Security, their budgets remain separate. 

Three United States Presidents have been in control of the budget so far. President Bush, the first, was responsible for the budgets from Financial Years 2002 to 2008, amounting to a total of US $1.6 trillion. When President Obama took over, he placed more emphasis on defense reduction and dropped the phrase “war on terrorism”, although he still spent $813 billion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in total. President Trump campaigned for the opposite, increasing defense spending and added an additional US $30 billion to President Obama’s stipulated budget in Financial Year 2017. As of end 2019, Trump signed the authorization of US $738 billion for the purposes of defense spending. 

At a glance, it may seem that the United States, its authorities and its taxpayers are the ones who have borne the hefty costs of these war efforts. The total of US $2.4 trillion that has been added to the national debt makes up more than ten percent of it, raising the budget deficit. Throughout the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, approximately US $1.52 trillion of the expenditures has come from the money of taxpayers. Unfortunately, it seems to be almost impossible to cut down on the United States budget without also reducing the money that goes to the War on Terrorism – something that is easier said than done. 

Some people, however, would say that the real costs of the War on Terrorism runs deeper than the surface funds paid. If these statistics are not large enough, the actual costs of the War on Terrorism may not end with the cash flow towards its budget. Lost opportunity costs must also be calculated – it is estimated that for every billion gone to war efforts, 8,555 jobs could have been created and $565 million added to the economy. Or if the billion had been received as a tax cut instead, 10,779 jobs would have been created, together with $505 million put into the economy as retail spending. Alternatively, if the billion was spent on education, 17,687 jobs could have been created and $1.3 billion returned to the economy. The $2.4 trillion spent on the War on Terrorism was not entirely wasted, as it did create 20 million jobs and add $1.4 trillion to the economy. However, according to these estimates, if the money had gone towards creating new jobs instead of the war, it could have created almost 42 million jobs and added $3.1 trillion to the economy. In this way, who were the ones who really paid for the war? Could it be the people that would otherwise have benefitted from those jobs and the boost in economy? 

Sometimes, the costs of war efforts are not only restricted to monetary values. The opportunity costs extend to lost international relations, setbacks and oblivion of what the rest of the world had been going through. With its singular focus on the terrorist forces in select countries, the United States paid little attention to what was going on in the rest of the world. It missed a valuable partnership with China in trade. While China was steadily growing into more than just a commercial powerhouse, shaping its own political ambitions, the United States was focused on fighting terrorism and, in the end, was uninvolved in the business and trade chatter China came to use. 

The self-interests of the United States won over, but at the cost of weakening ties with other countries. As Latin America was mostly irrelevant to the conflict going on in the War on Terrorism, the United States overlooked the region in favor of the warring countries. The result was reduced influence on Latin America, causing the United States to miss out on what could have been the immigration deal of history. The United States treated with Arab countries only if they seemed capable of fighting Islamic terrorism, completely ignoring the fact that the authoritarianism in those countries served as an inspiration for the very fanatical Islamists America had sworn itself against. 

Additionally, it is not just the authorities and the people that suffer the consequences of focusing nearly two decades on war. It is estimated that a minimum of US $1 trillion will go towards caring for the veterans of the War on Terrorism over the next few decades. It is believed that approximately 770,000 to 801,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, have lost their lives in the wars since the September 11 disaster. The number of casualties include more than 250,000 opposition fighters, 7,014 members of the United States Army and 1,343 journalists and humanitarian workers. However, these are possibly the least complicated prices to pay. For the fighters that survive, the war does not end when they return home. They sometimes suffer from physical injuries sustained during service, but most of all, they suffer from mental and emotional trauma that is never completely gone. The costs can be extended to their families, who have had to deal with the anxiety of missing their loved one at home, as well as the constant worry of the worst – their loved one being killed in action. Unlike the monetary costs of war, lives have no interest rates, but they are irreplaceable. 

To its credit, the United States has been spending slightly less on defense efforts as compared to the immediate years following the start of the War on Terrorism, and fewer soldiers are dying. However, the financial impact remains heavy on the entire nation. With the continued expenditures each year, it is expected that the debt will only be fully paid perhaps in the 22nd century.