Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Worth It?

It's impossible to answer, of course, absent the ability to see the world had other roads been taken. But to me -- and, I'd say, to most people who try to see the biggest of the big picture -- the answer is no. Our reaction to 9/11 was a massive over-reaction which has, as I've written here many times, done us more damage than the late Mr bin Laden could have ever hoped. Self-inflicted wounds, and deep. At the hands of President Cheney and the goat-reader, for reasons we'll never fully know but which, it seems obvious, were about much more than "keeping us safe," our country did exactly what bin Laden had in mind. He knew us better than we did, I guess. This article scratches beyond the surface:

It’s been a long, grueling and enormously expensive time for this country, a time of endless war and massive fortification, of borrowed money and of missed opportunities.

There’s the human toll. More than twice as many Americans -- over 6,000 -- have now died in the two wars that followed 9/11 than did in the original attacks, along withmore than 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans. Over three million Iraqis and 400,000 Afghans remain displaced. Several hundred thousand U.S. soldiers suffer from long-term war-related injuries and health problems, with more than 200,000 diagnosed with traumatic brain injury alone.

And there’s the extraordinary financial toll. Indeed, even as Washington officials panic about the growing deficit, much of the problem can be traced back to 9/11 -- not to the attack itself, but to the response, and particularly to the decision to go to war in Iraq.


Harvard scholar Linda Bilmes and Nobel-Prize winning Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz now estimate that the two post-9/11 wars will end up costing taxpayers somewhere between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. ...

"One of the main reasons that our national debt has increased so much over this past decade is because of the spending on the wars and the military buildup,” Bilmes told The Huffington Post. “All of that money has been borrowed.”

The post-9/11 era is defined by a series of choices, the biggest and most expensive of which was President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. When it comes to the $4-6 trillion estimate, “I think between two thirds and three quarters of it is Iraq," Bilmes said.

"I ask myself, would the economy be so weak, would we still be bogged down in Afghanistan, would oil prices be where they are, would we have lost so much blood and treasure, would the national debt be as high as it is, if we had not made the decision to go into Iraq? “ Bilmes said. “I think the answer is 'no' to all those questions.”


Yet a 2002 Congressional Research Service report did anticipate the effects of post-9/11 spending with great accuracy: "Large amounts of resources are and will be committed to making production, distribution, finance, and communication more secure in the United States," the report said. "Resources that could have been used to enhance the productive capacity of the country will now be used for security. Since it will take more labor and capital to produce a largely unchanged amount of goods and services, this will result in a slower rate of growth in national productivity, a price that will be borne by every American in the form of a slower rate of growth of per capita real income."...

[Some may have seen this post, if briefly, before blogger crashed. It sucked into the ethers the rest of the post, and a couple of others I'd written but not posted. I wish I knew how to find "cached" pages. I'd written a couple more paragraphs here, but I'm not sure I can recreate them very closely. If anyone got it on an RSS feed and could copy and paste it to me, I'll add it in. Otherwise, I'll just end with the gist of what I'd written:]

I'm not saying -- no one is -- that we should have just cleaned up ground zero after 9/11 and moved on. At the time, I was quite okay with the Afghanistan operation, and I was impressed at how quickly the Taliban folded their tents. It resonated around that part of the Muslim world that had rejoiced in the attacks of 9/11, and who'd thought the US was shown to be powerless. Would that we'd not gone off the rails and invaded Iraq, giving Osama more than he could have imagined in his wildest and virgin-filled fantasies. The message might have lasted, and perhaps we'd not have been brought to the verge of economic and moral collapse.

The end of the guy who started it all, while not the end of the need for vigilance, seems an appropriate time to look back at the path we took and to wonder, had we spent but a fraction of the costs of our overreaction on those things that really truly make us great, and safe, what we have become. And what might have been.

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