Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley at the National Journal wrote last week that, “As we mark Osama bin Laden’s death, what’s striking is how much he cost our nation — and how little we’ve gained from our fight against him.” Indeed, since the President announced that the al-Qaeda leader is no more, various analyses have pointed out just how much money bin Laden has caused the United States to spend. While the Congressional Research Service estimates that by 2021, bil Laden will cost the U.S. $1.8 trillion and the Financial Times puts it at $2 trillion, Ferholz and Tankersley say the real cost is somewhere near $3 trillion.
But one underreported fact is that even though bin Laden is dead, American tax payers will be paying on his legacy for quite some time. Bloomberg reports:
This year alone, taxpayers are spending more than $45 billion in interest on the money borrowed to battle al-Qaeda, the analysis shows.
The financial bleeding won’t stop with bin Laden’s demise. One of every four dollars in red ink the U.S. expects to incur in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will result from $285 billion in annual spending triggered by the terrorist scion of a wealthy Saudi family. [...]
Indeed, the meter didn’t stop running May 2 when bin Laden’s corpse slipped into the Arabian Sea. Next year alone, the U.S. plans to spend an additional $118 billion on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additional fiscal 2012 spending that can be attributed to bin Laden includes an extra $14 billion for homeland security, about $125 billion for the Pentagon excluding the two wars, expanded intelligence spending and increased aid to Pakistan, according to the Bloomberg analysis.
“I think a prudent planner would anticipate these costs continuing ad infinitum into the future,” Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi told Bloomberg.
Ferholz and Tankersley have a quick run down on the genealogy of the debt:
What we are left with, after bin Laden, is a lingering bill that was exacerbated by decisions made in a decade-long campaign against him. We borrowed money to finance the war on terrorism rather than diverting other national-security funding or raising taxes. We expanded combat operations to Iraq before stabilizing Afghanistan, which in turn led to the recent reescalation of the American commitment there. [And we] tolerated an unsupervised national-security apparatus.
Most of these costs have been accumulated because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the American presence in Iraq is winding down, the U.S. spent $50 billion on the war there this year and the Obama administration has requested nearly $20 billion for FY2012. Meanwhile, the U.S. will spend $120 billion in Afghanistan this year and nearly the same amount in 2012.
At the same time, Americans and Iraqis are talking about extending the U.S. troop presence past the end of the year deadline to withdraw and since bin Laden’s death, calls to reevaluate America’s mission in Afghanistan are intensifying. It might be worth keeping in mind then, bin Laden’s overall goal in waging war against the United States: “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah,” he said.