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Five Eye-Opening Facts About Our Bloated Post-9/11 ‘Defense’ May 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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AlterNet /
By Joshua Holland

A dollar spent on guns is one less buck available for butter.
May 28, 2011  |


This week, the National
Priorities Project
(NPP) released a snapshot of U.S. “defense” spending
since September 11, 2001. The eye-popping figures lend credence to the theory
that al Qaeda’s attacks were a form of economic warfare – that they hoped for a
massive overreaction that would entangle us in costly foreign wars that would
ultimately drain away our national wealth.

They didn’t bankrupt us the same way the
Mujahadeen helped bring down the Soviet Union
decades before, because our economy was much stronger. But they did succeed in
putting us deep into the red – with an assist, of course, from Bush’s
ideologically driven tax cuts for the wealthy.

The topline
number is this: we have spent $7.6 trillion on the military and homeland
security since 9/11. The Pentagon’s base budget – which doesn’t include the
costs of fighting our wars – has increased by 81 percent during that time (43
percent when adjusted for inflation). The costs of the conflicts in Afghanistan
and Iraq have now reached $1.26 trillion. But that only scratches the surface;
it doesn’t include the long-term costs of caring for badly wounded soldiers, for

One line-item
suggests that 9/11 has been used to justify greater military spending across the
board; the nuclear weapons budget has shot up by more than a fifth after
adjusting for inflation. How intercontinental ballistic missiles that can
vaporize whole cities are useful in a “war on terror” is anybody’s

The Pentagon
itself acknowledges these dollars haven’t all been spent effectively – there is
certainly plenty of waste. According to the Washington
, the DoD has blown $32 billion
(enough to offer free, universal college tuition for a year) on canceled weapons
programs since 1997. According to the Post story, which is based on an unreleased Pentagon
report, “For almost a decade, the Defense Department saw its budgets boom
— but didn’t make the kind of technological strides that seemed possible.”

“Since 9/11, a near doubling of the Pentagon’s
modernization accounts — more than $700 billion over 10 years in new spending on
procurement, research and development — has resulted in relatively modest gains
in actual military capability,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an
address last week.

He called that outcome both “vexing and
disturbing.” Some might find the relentless focus on cutting benefits for
vulnerable Americans “vexing and disturbing” in light of this profligate
spending. Budgets, after all, are a reflection of our priorities.

Toward that end, let’s put these numbers in
perspective by looking at some of the other things we might be doing with those
dollars. Because a buck spent on guns is one less for butter.

1. Post-9/11 Defense Hikes Equal Five Times the
“Medicare Gap”

Economist Dean Baker notes
that “the projections in the Medicare Trustees report, as well as the CBO
baseline budget, show that the program faces a relatively modest long-term
shortfall.” The amount of money needed to balance the program’s finances over
its 75-year horizon, he adds, “is less than 0.3 percent of GDP, approximately
one-fifth of the increase in the rate annual defense spending between 2000 and

2. Afghanistan Costs Alone Could Pay for 15.6
Years of Head Start

Head Start provides education, health, nutrition,
and parenting services to low-income children and their families. It’s an
incredibly successful, effective and popular program, but there are only 900,000
places in the program for more than 2.5 million eligible kids. According to the
National Priorities Project, what we’ve spent on the Afghanistan war so far
could fund Head Start for all eligible children for the next 15.6 years.

3. Covering the Uninsured

A 2007
conducted by researchers at Harvard University estimated that 45,000
people die every year in the United States from problems associated with lack of
coverage. The study found that “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40
percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts,” even
“after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors, and baseline

According to NPP’s
analysis, the costs of the Afghanistan conflict alone could cover every
uninsured American for 1.7 years.

4. Closing State Budget

Forty-six states face budget
shortfalls in this fiscal year, totaling $130 billion nationwide. The
supplemental requests for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan this year add up to
$170 billion – that doesn’t include the Pentagon’s base budget, nukes or
Homeland Security.

5. Iraq, Just in 2011

Iraq is still a bloody mess, with
an insurgency still underway
. But our politicians have declared vistory and
the media have largely moved on. That doesn’t mean we won’t spend almost $50
billion on those “non-combat troops” which remain, however. What else could we
do with that kind of scratch if we just brought them home? NPP tells us it would

  • 24.3 million children receiving low-income health care for one year, OR
  • 726,044 elementary school teachers for one year,

  • 829,946 firefighters for one year, OR

  • 6.2 million Head Start slots for children for one
    year, OR

  • 10.7 million households with renewable electricity
    — solar photovoltaic for one year, OR

  • 28.6 million households with renewable
    electricity-wind power for one year, OR

  • 6.1 million military veterans receiving VA medical
    care for one year, OR

  • 9.8 million people receiving low-income health
    care for one year, OR

  • 718,208 police or sheriff’s patrol officers for
    one year, OR

  • 6.0 million scholarships for university students
    for one year, OR

  • 8.5 million students receiving Pell grants of

The Big Picture

It’s a tragic irony that so much of the discussion
surrounding the public debt centers on “entitlements” like Social Security
(which hasn’t added a penny to the national debt) when we’re still paying for
Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Panama and the first Gulf War and Somalia and
the Balkans and on and on.

Estimates of just how much of our national
debt payments are from past military spending vary wildly. In 2007, economist
Robert Higgs calculated it
like this


I added up all past deficits (minus
surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to
each year’s ratio of narrowly defined national security spending–military,
veterans, and international affairs–to total federal spending, expressing
everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 91.2
percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006.
Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government’s net interest
outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending.


When Higgs did that analysis four years
ago, he came up with a figure of $206.7 billion just in interest payments on our
past military adventures.


Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at
AlterNet. He is the author of The
15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want
You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America)
. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.


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