The $1.2 Trillion Trap: What America Gave Up For 10 Years Of War Since 9/11

Today is September 11th, the tenth anniversary of the horrific and inhumane Al Qaeda-led terrorist attacks that killed approximately 3,000 innocents. As Americans pause and reflect on how these attacks changed our country and the world, we should reflect upon one of deceased terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden’s primary goals: bankrupting America. In an audio tape from 2004, Bin Laden explained that Al Qaeda had adopted a “policy” of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” through provoking it into engaging in perpetual warfare in the Middle East and South Asia.

Nearly ten years after the United States sent our military forces into Afghanistan, our country has spent $1.2 trillion engaging in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project (NPP). The wars are expected to cost much more than that by their conclusion, with some estimates ranging up to $3 trillion for the Iraq war alone.

By spending this much money on wars that ended up being America’s longest in history, the United States in some ways fell into Bin Laden’s trap. This money could’ve been used in ways that would’ve invested in America — securing access to health care, a decent education, and infrastructure for alternative energy. Using NPP metrics, ThinkProgress has assembled ten alternative policies that the United States could’ve pursued instead with this money that has been spent on the wars so far:

— Provide 63.3 Million Scholarships For University Students Every Year For Ten Years — Give 58.9 Million Children Low-Income Health Care Every Year For Ten Years — Give 23.6 Million People Access To Low-Income Healthcare Every Year For Ten Years — Provide 20.68 Million Students With Pell Grants Worth $5,500 Every Year For Ten Years — Provide 15.12 Million Head Start Slots For Children Every Year For Ten Years — Provide Veterans Administration Care For 14.7 Million Military Veterans Every Year For Ten Years — Hire 2.01 Million Firefighters Every Year For Ten Years — Hire 1.76 Million Elementary School Teachers Every Year For Ten Years — Hire 1.73 Million Police Officers Every Year For Ten Years — Retrofit 69.4 Million Households For Wind Power Every Year For Ten Years — Retrofit 26 Million Households For Solar Photovoltaic Energy Every Year For Ten Years

These numbers reflect only the monetary costs of the wars. The human costs are much more difficult to calculate, both because it is it impossible to quantify the value of a human life and because calculating the death toll among Iraqis and Afghans is very difficult. But over 6,400 American soldiers have perished in Iraq, Afghanistan, or supporting theaters and death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan combined are in the hundreds of thousands.


The cost in blood and treasure of these wars since 9/11 demonstrate that they enacted a heavy toll on our country, and this data should inform our actions in the future.