MICHIGAN CITY — As we head into a weekend commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, ponder this question: Did Osama bin Laden win?
He was killed by U.S. Special Forces a decade ago, his remains dumped into the Indian Ocean. But when you consider what his goals were when he attacked New York and Washington, he has achieved much of what he wanted.
When al-Qaeda attacked, the U.S. was the only “super power” on the world stage, coming a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, there is a growing school of thought that we have now fallen behind China.
America spent $6.4 trillion on what President George W. Bush described as the “War on Terror,” according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. This includes President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address in 2002 when he expanded the U.S. assault on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
The Iraq War costs are pegged at about $2 trillion (coming to about $8,000 per U.S. taxpayer). “When you’re accounting for the cost of war, you can’t only account what the Department of Defense has spent on overseas contingency funds,” Stephanie Savell of the Project told Business Insider. “You have to look at the other sets of costs including interest on borrowed funds, increased war-related spending, higher pay to retain soldiers, medical and disability care on post-9/11 and war veterans, and more.”
The Costs of War Project estimates the U.S. spent $2.2 trillion in Afghanistan, including $837 billion on “warfighting” and $145 billion on Afghan reconstruction, the development of its national security forces that quit after 11 days this summer, as well as counter-narcotic efforts.
There were 2,352 U.S. military members who were killed in Afghanistan, and the 20,000 who were wounded. In the Iraq War, 4,431 U.S. soldiers were killed and 31,944 were wounded. These human costs are incalculable, defying any dollar amount on a spread sheet.
According to a 2018 Center of Public Integrity study, the U.S. has spent $2.8 trillion on counter terrorism and hardened security at airports, transportation centers, utilities, schools, etc. The authors noted that since 9/11, only 100 people have been killed by Muslim extremists or jihadists inside the United States, while more than 20,000 fentanyl-related (opioid) deaths occurred in 2016 alone.
“Some analysts conclude that spending $2.8 trillion to counter a terrorism threat that has resulted in comparatively few fatalities is a waste of increasingly scarce government resources that are better spent elsewhere,” the report said. “Others may contend that terrorism’s impact is more psychological than physical, or that the low fatality count from terrorism and the lack of another 9/11-scale attack” suggest the money has been well spent.”
Osama bin Laden not only sought to force the U.S. and western democracies into a multi-trillion dollar spending spree, he sought to divide us.
America emerged from Sept. 11 in a united mode, which lasted less than five years. Between Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2006 mid-term elections that saw Democrats retake Congress after the Iraq invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney moved for the CIA to create “dark places” to waterboard Sept. 11 terrorists. There were the scandals of the Abu Graib prison that undermined President Bush’s declared collision between “good and evil.”
In the week following President Biden’s surreal airlifting of 120,000 Americans and Afghans out of Kabul airport in our final drawdown, we’ve watched the Taliban announce an interim government filled with old guard terrorists on the United States’ most-wanted list.
And down in Gitmo, the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appeared in what has been described as the “forever trial” that has included nine years of pre-trial hearings. KSM walked into the Guantanamo courtroom wearing a turban and a orange-tinged beard. He waved to reporters.
KSM had been waterboarded 183 times. He had “confessed” to orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks “from A to Z,” as well as the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. U.S. prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which has since called into question his confessions.
The America of today would have Osama bin Laden smiling. We are so culturally divided we cannot even join forces to take a damn vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Our collective trust in government is in the 20th percentile. We are more than $22 trillion in debt while Social Security will be bankrupt by the end of this decade.
In the Dec. 18, 2003 edition of Howey Politics, I quoted U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer: “This isn’t the century we expected. The Russian bear has been replaced by a thousand vipers.’”
In the Sept. 13, 2001 Howey Politics edition, Dave Kitchell of the Logansport Pharos-Tribune observed, “If Tuesday served to do anything for the country, it reminded us all that we are Americans and that we have not paid off the mortgage on our freedom. We have only refinanced it. The citizenship test that immigrants to this country must pass before they call themselves Americans is only one kind of test. But the test of American citizenship character is one we’re all about to take and it’s not on a printed form. We have to pass a national character test to prevent our golden door from being beaten down like this again.”
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.