The 16 Years’ War and Its Cost


Every night on American TV you can see repeating commercials to raise money for young people who’ve had limbs blown off. It might be cruel to ask the following question in the presence of these veterans, but millions of other people have been forced to pay for all of this, and they need to be protected as well.

And so, with condolences to the young people who signed up for these wars believing they were actually defending the good, we must ask this question: What was the payoff?

Some people will evade this question by maintaining that “freedom was preserved,” but that statement rests on a nebulous and self-serving definition of freedom… a definition that boils down to, “What we have is freedom.” Or it’s variant: “It’s worse in North Korea; therefore we’re free.” These lines of reasoning, of course, are fallacious.

The 16 Years’ War (Heading for 20 or More)

So, with apologies where due, I must assert that the payoff from all the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Iraq has been negligible. Both places are still a mess, and both places will likely remain a mess for a long, long time.

Almost 16 years of war have gone by in Afghanistan and more than 14 in Iraq. I think we should admit that any possibility of a “respectable win” is long past.

So, what was it all for? To make people feel they were getting revenge after 9/11? Was that really worth the cost? Bin Laden (whose official death story reeks) was sick and dying anyway. Or to “get” Hussein? He had been a US ally for many years before he was pushed into the role of the villain. So how reasonable is revenge in that case?

Were these two snorts of emotional cocaine worth their price?

Ah Yes… The Price

War is insanely expensive, so I’ve decided to crunch the numbers on this, and I think you’ll want to see them, especially if you’re an American.

And so, here, courtesy of Wikipedia, are the costs of the US military-industrial complex for the years 2001 through 2017:

2001                  $335 Billion

2002                  $362 Billion

2003                  $456 Billion

2004                  $491 Billion

2005                  $506 Billion

2006                  $556 Billion

2007                  $625 Billion

2008                  $696 Billion

2009                  $698 Billion

2010                  $721 Billion

2011                  $717 Billion

2012                  $681 Billion

2013                  $610 Billion

2014                  $614 Billion

2015                  $637 Billion

2016                  $522 Billion

2017                  $524 Billion

That comes to a staggering $9.751 trillion. And we should remember that this is for a nation bordered on the east and west by immense oceans, and on the north and south by nations that are more likely to dissolve than to invade. On top of that, The War on Drugs and other programs are only partly accounted for in these numbers.

The costs of just the Iraq and Afghan wars – if they could realistically be separated from the rest of the military-industrial complex – would be substantially lower. One report (PDF) has those costs for 2001 through 2011 at $1.28 trillion. Extending that figure through 2017 would yield a rough cost of $2.2 trillion.

But since no war can be fought without the underlying military-industrial complex (bases, training, recruitment, hospitals, logistics and so on), let’s split the difference between the total budget and $2.2T and call the money spent by the US government on these two wars $6 trillion.

And That Comes To…

The cost of the past 16 years of these unresolved wars comes to $44,776 per household. That’s a lot of spare change.

If you want to look at it on an individual basis, it comes to $18,809 per man, woman, and child in the United States ((I am using Wikipedia’s figures of 319 million persons and 134 million households in the US.)).

Revenge, we see, is very, very expensive.

The full cost of the military-industrial complex (excluding parts of the War on Drugs, some intel agencies, and so on) comes to $30,567 per man, woman, and child and $72,769 per household.

Can We Please Be Honest?

I really can’t see a reason to say that the two wars in question kept America safe. I’m not sure how you’d make an argument for that without resting entirely on dark imaginations.

And please remember this: Imagined terrors are infinite. You could imagine terrifying possibilities for as long as you had time and energy.

And so, any conclusions based upon “what might have happened” are useless. More terror attacks might have happened, or there might have been a Muslim Enlightenment if we hadn’t blown away a few pieces of collateral damage. Both of these are imaginary and neither is an excuse to spend fifty cents, much less trillions of dollars.

That first one is scary, however, and fear is great for making humans act stupidly.

I’d also like to add that these expenditures have not gone to the young people who were blown up in these wars and who should have been a top priority. If they had, there’d be no need for perpetual charity appeals on TV. That very expensive segment of the military-industrial complex (VA hospitals, etc.) has failed horribly. Ask a vet.

So let’s be clear on this:

The average American family would be at least $44,000 richer if these wars hadn’t been run. And given that most of these families are just scraping by, that seems like a pretty big deal.

And given that the net gain from all of this was nil, I don’t know what to call it but a disaster… save for the people who’ve been empowered and enriched by it.

Almost no one living has been more damaged by this than all those young people missing limbs. Without this debacle they’d still be whole… and probably a lot wealthier too.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

23 thoughts on “The 16 Years’ War and Its Cost”

  1. Great article, and I agree.
    There is a Dutch expression that goes something like: Man often suffers most on what he fears to suffer.
    That is what has seemed to happen in the US since 911, and that is a very pityful state.

  2. Paul, I wanted to thank you for all the great work you have done for us, often thanklessly I’m afraid, to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
    I’m ashamed to say that, although I believe in God and in His word, and that we have brothers in many denominations, there are times I am uncertain what he had in mind when he created us based on what I see today. We seem to have all fallen so far from what should be so easy to achieve – love for our merciful maker and love for each other as His creations. I’m as guilty as the next…
    You were careful not to mention it, and I respect that, but clearly someone made lots of money because of these incessant wars, and given the decline in the need for truth by a culture that just begs to be enslaved, it’s no wonder there seems to be no end to war, it’s simply good business wrapped up in patriotism and the demonizing of others we know little or nothing about.
    I’m Canadian, but I remember as a young man the pride I would feel for Americans when I saw them stand and place a hand over their hearts when their anthem was played. Patriotism seemed to be such a wonderful thing to me then, but now I see that evil and remorseless people would use it to their own selfish ends.
    My heart goes out to all those who have fought in these terrible wars because they believed in what they were told, that they were fighting for honor and liberty. Unfortunately wars are seldom if ever fought for those reasons.
    May God watch over you and all those who risk themselves to speak truthfully where there is injustice and darkness. And may he take special care to watch over all those men, women and children who fought because they believed it right, or who suffered as victims because they were demonized and no-one was interested to hear their story. They are the collateral damage to maintain the rich and powerful.
    I pray for a better world for us all one day, God willing.

    1. “I pray for a better world for us all one day, God willing.”
      Amen… and thank you.

  3. Paul, the best article I have ever read. Thank you for allowing me to share this.
    I will post this, in its entirety at every change given by the corruption of our the press barons/TV/.political websites, etc. I urge your readers to do same. We needed this..

  4. And, these numbers don’t include the costs of other undeclared wars such as in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Then, add on the costs of funding NATO and the multitude of foreign based military installations around the world. What would our national debt be had we acted with more discretion on some of these?
    Great article!

  5. And what about the interest in financing previous US wars, including the Cold War, that now takes US national debt to US$20 trillion, is unrepayable and now brings the prospect of the next financial crash and collapse of the US dollar?

    1. Editorial discretion, my friend. Can’t fit everything into one short article and still keep a clear message.

  6. The fundamental question is what was the motivation for entering these prolonged and expensive wars?
    The answer is that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers was justification for going to stamp out terrorism. This is know as a false flag operation.
    The problem is that the collapse of the WTC towers was not the result of an attack by terrorists, unless you believe that terrorists were able to enter the towers and plant carefully placed and timed explosives.
    The evidence for controlled demolition is overwhelming All three towers came down in a matter of seconds and fell into their own footprints, while expelling pulverized concrete and steel beams. Fires can only soften steel beams – they cannot sever steel beams in the precise manner required. There are ample records of high rise buildings that have been engulfed in flames and have not collapsed. Witness the recent 28 story apartment building in London that was engulfed in flames. It did not collapse.
    The NIST report released in 2008 documented 2.25 seconds of actual free fall acceleration of WTC7, but that fact was ignored in the report. The report included three phases of the collapse and asserted that the collapse time was consistent with their computer simulation. In other words their man made simulation ignored the laws of physics.

    1. With all due respect, Neil, the WTC discussion is a wasteful diversion – it derails us from doing the things that matter.
      I wouldn’t put it past the usual suspects to do such a thing, and if I had irrefutable evidence that it was a false flag, I might devote a column or two to it.
      BUT… and this is a BIG but…
      Focusing on this issue tears us away from things that matter far, far more. It’s up to US to build a better world, and right now is a crucial time. Decentralized technologies have shown up and the overlords are playing catch-up. We need to move forward NOW, and not waste our time debating travesties past.

      1. I will have to disagree with what you think matters. What matters is that 9/11 is used as justification for a never ending war on terror. What is most frustrating is the fact that the media and Congress have not investigated what really did happen that day.
        The military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to force regime change has gotten nowhere. Untold thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in these wars. These are offensive wars in both senses of the word. They were certainly not defensive wars. The U.S. was not invaded by an enemy.
        Then there are the untold millions of dollars that have been spent to support the war effort.
        To paraphrase the lyrics in Blowin’ in the Wind, how many people must be killed before we admit that too many people have died?
        What matters more than this?

        1. “how many people must be killed before we admit that too many people have died?”
          Admitting that too many died BUILDS NOTHING.
          You may have the last word if you wish.

          1. Am I to interpret what you said that it is O.K. to initiate wars based on a false flag operation, and it doesn’t matter how many innocent civilians are killed in the process, and no matter how much our national debt is increased as a result?

      2. 9/11 truth discussions are not a waste; 9/11 truth is however something that will be admitted to by some subsequent administration to rally the people behind the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship so as to be able to rid the system of those who were part of the 9/11 crimes. We’ll end up with a 4th Reich on our hands and the people will be fully behind it. You can see it starting already, 9/11 truth is creeping into the mainstream and don’t think for a minute that it is happening by mistake.

  7. Great article. Thanks, PR. Someone continually posts on Facebook this tired ol’ refrain: “Freedom isn’t free” with an accompanying photo of a wounded warrior/soldier. Gawd. I hate that stupidity. The US government has so brainwashed the populace with this sham patriotism nonsense that no one can think for themselves! So many fools truly believe that soldiers give their lives for “our freedom”, while they’re actually being sacrificed for the power and greed of the MIC, the “elites”, the plutocrats. Ugh! I hate the mindless stupidity.

  8. Answer: “Trucks” (see also, pipelines and shipping lanes)
    The Military Industrial complex (with a little help from exxon, the bankers, et al) has made the argument that energy is the most vital national security interest. They paint scenarios of the trucks stop moving – and a third of our population starves within a week or two. This is the “Why” they privately sell to folks like John McCain.
    This extends to the natural gas pipeline the Russians are building through North Korea to South Korea right now. The new South Korean president want’s trade with the North. They are opening the trains through the North and pushing for RAPID completion of the Russian pipeline so they DON’T have to spend ten times as much for LNG from America via boats.
    Now, to “The Cost”
    Maybe you don’t realize it, but the trillions of dollars we spend to secure our energy markets interests are literally conjured out of thin air. It isn’t like some farmer had to grow a crop and sell it at a profit, so the tax man can steal it and spend it “securing” our energy market. They literally walk up to the computer and type in a few trillion for lockheed etc…

    1. True, but those newly created dollars greatly diminish the buying power of all of the dollars which went before, so it isn’t just a zero-cost game.

  9. Nov 7th, 2015 Black gold under the Golan. read the article.
    Strategic Advisory Board
    The Strategic Advisory Board of Genie Oil and Gas advises management on strategic, financial, operational and public policy matters.
    Michael Steinhardt (SAB Chairman)
    Noted Wall Street investor and Principal Manager, Steinhardt Management LLC. Founder Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Co., and noted philanthropist.
    Richard Cheney
    46th Vice President of the United States. Vice President Cheney also served as President and CEO of Halliburton Company and U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993.
    Marry Landrieu
    United States Senator from Louisiana from 1996 to 2014. Senator Landrieu served as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In her capacity as chair, she sponsored and passed the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Bill. The bill fosters partnerships focused on developing resources such as natural gas and alternative fuels, on the academic, business and governmental levels.
    Rupert Murdoch
    Founder and Executive Chairman of News Corporation, one of the world’s largest diversified media companies. News Corporation’s holdings include Fox Entertainment, Dow Jones and Company, the New York Post, HarperCollins and significant media assets on six continents.
    Bill Richardson
    Governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011. Mr. Richardson has served asU.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1997-1998), Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration (1998-2001), Chairman of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and as Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
    Jacob Rothschild, OM, GBE
    Chairman of the J. Rothschild group of companies and of RIT Capital Partners plc. Chairman of Five Arrows Limited. Lord Rothschold is a noted philanthropist and Chairman of the Rothschild Foundation.
    Dr. Lawrence Summers
    Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University. Dr. Summers served as the 71st Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton and as Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama.
    R. James Woolsey
    Director of Central Intelligence from 1993 to 1995 and as Under Secretary of the Navy from 1977 to 1979. Mr. Woolsey is co-founder of the United States Energy Security Council and is Chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

  10. we keep saying “follow the $$$..but how are they making $$$when its costing so much to do the get it..

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