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Wednesday, October 26. 2011
Estimates of the costs to the US of 9/11 range up to $5 trillion, from a left-leaning source. The September 2011 New York Times survey of estimates balances at $3.3 trillion, noting that “this total equals one-fifth of the current national debt.” Much of those costs could have been avoided if the US had a more alert, focused and muscular foreign policy in the 1990s. Much of future such costs of the US being dragged by events into future conflicts may be avoided if there were more attention by US politicians and public. In 1996, Republican pollster Frank Luntz said Americans were unintersted in hearing about foreign policy challenges, and is repeating that now. We paid for it then and will pay for it again. Luntz' polling is dangerously misleading to politicians with finger-in-the-wind that invites fists in America's eyes.
Given the varying opportunistic rationales over the years by Osama bin Laden for attacking the West, and similar from other Islamist foes, it is reasonable to assume that one way or another attacks on the US – absent 9/11 – would have occurred anyway. They did, but not of the scale and shock of 9/11. But, in Islamist foes’ own words, their perception of US weakness of reaction and resolve throughout the 1980s and 1990s encouraged them to step up their attacks. However, these attacks didn’t rouse the US before 9/11, so the $3.3 trillion, or some cost lower or higher can justifiably be connected to 9/11, which by the way cost al Quaeda about $500,000.
Some of that $3.3 trillion represents improving our domestic defenses, much of which can be seen as plugging holes that weren’t paid attention to before 9/11, much else of which can be seen as misspent or over-reaction: $360 billion for Homeland Security, $110 billion for domestic expenses of National Intelligence, $100 billion for lost time at airports, extra driving to avoid flight-boarding delays resulting in $19 billion in car accidents. A bigger amount, $1.6 trillion, went to military related costs ($1.2 billion directly in Iraq and Afghanistan). Up to $1 billion will go to future costs of veterans and wounded.
One can argue retrospectively that both or either Iraq and Afghanistan were avoidable choices, including not having sufficient military forces for the required occupations. That would require avoiding realities of threats and the best intelligence available at the time, and avoiding that the 1990s drawdown of our military left us ill-prepared. One can argue prospectively that the dysfunctional Iraqi and Afghan governance should be avoided by our non-involvement. That would require a neo-isolationist avoidance of facing up to the likely worse results there, in their regions, and for the US.
There’s no mistaking that most Americans want out of such frustrating, protracted entanglements. There’s also no mistaking that the erratic and incoherent foreign policies pursued by the Obama administration have failed to provide Americans with leadership, explanation or guidance as to why the US should be engaged abroad. There’s, as well, no mistaking that the potential Republican 2012 candidates have not presented nor emphasized the details of a more forthright, focused and muscular foreign policy for Americans. Democrats and Republicans read similar polls about most Americans properly putting our domestic concerns and angst above all. But, they also fail to provide credible leadership.
It is uniquely the job of the President to inform and lead American public opinion about issues that are not part of their daily lives and preoccupations, and to exert himself to protect American interests and security. Regardless of the lack of knowledge or interest or agreement by US media, the leadership of the President is essential to raise the salience, importance, of such issues via the media to provide Americans with better information from which to assess priorities and feedback choices to our political class. Otherwise we Americans are cast adrift in too late reactiveness that soon fades or is pained by costs for which we are unprepared.
Hasty and excessive withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with huge slashes of our military, plus acquiescing to Russian and Chinese expansionism, are an easy path now, but will very likely require far more expenditures of US influence, US lives, and US treasure than the leadership path. Republican candidates must present the details of a surer and less expensive future, not just one-liners, or be complicit in those present and future catastrophic costs. Another $3.3 trillion or far less now for preparedness is only the financial equation. Our very future is the higher and more pressing cost that must be paid for or suffer the consequences. Better to spend some budget and political capital than be doomed to repeat the past decade or worse.
Tracked: Oct 26, 17:22
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Great insights! Unfortunately, Obama is too lazy and stupid "to lead and inform American opinion" about issues pertaining to world events. He's always out partying, playing golf or basketball, or campaigning, instead of working in his office and meeting with informed sources to become knowledgeable about conditions in the world.
With regard to the NY Times figures for the costs of 9/11, I am confused why health care for military veterans is tallied twice at two ENORMOUSLY different cost estimates: (1) Once, at $26B, from an estimate by the Congressional Research Service under the category of "War Funding, Related Costs", and (2) Again, at $589B (or more than 20X the first figure above), from an estimate by someone named L. J. Bilmes at Harvard under the category of "Future War and Veterans Care." Even for government work under the recklessly spendthrift Obama administration, a discrepancy of that order of magnitude bears careful scrutiny. Are these cost estimates duplicative, or do they apply to different budgetary items?
I noticed that too (as well as some of the "stretches" that were included). I don't know the answer. I did say that the actual number may be higher or lower. I didn't dig further, as the dimension of the costs were the matter, and what negligence of national security costs, more than preparedness.
The pendulum swings, I think, and conservatives are making noises that perhaps we erred in going into Iraq and Afghanistan, because the monetary cost is becoming clear. But much of that is simply human nature, swinging from too-eager support of a Republican president's plans to too-eager repenting at leisure. 1. We do not know what would have happened otherwise. 2. This idea of spending money instead of soldiers (and even enemy civilians) is exactly what we wanted, but it's new to us and now the bill is arriving. 3. We will not know whether it was worth it for another 20 years, and even then will disagree.
I think recent events show that Americans - by their actions, not their words - would be fine with the type of war where we simply offed a few dictators and didn't invade anyone. Out loud, we say that this is morally unacceptable and why we had the Church Committee in the 1970's to forbid this. During Bush's terms, the consensus was that the thing was politically impossible, impossible, the American people would never stand for it, and the Left screamed that no one better try it.
Well, the antiwar left (and some of the right) fussed at Obama for doing this - I give those few credit for sticking to principle over party, though I disagree with them - but the outrage died down pretty quickly. OBL, Khaddafi, Yemen... eh, we shrug. It's cheap, not so many people die, and it's not like the bastards didn't deserve it. Whether we change our mind later, I don't know. But welcome to our new war policy, under any administration.
Welcome to The One's Brave New World where---irony of ironies---a novice President awarded the Nobel Peace Prize now authorizes CIA teams to fight clandestine battles across the globe and makes use of drone aircraft---a superior technology that was unavailable to his predecessors in office---to target for killing any person he wishes...in secret, apparently with no accountability to anyone else in the government. We sure have come a long way since the days of Bill Clinton, when the targeted killing of an enemy combatant had to be cleared first with government LAWYERS. Can a real-life Jason Bourne and a nefarious Treadstone assassination squad be just around the corner?
International Whack-a-Muslim-Mole is expensive and inconclusive.
Might I suggest an alternative:
Capture Mecca and allow Muslims in only if they have behaved themselves for a year.
I realize it would entail stirring up an enormous hornets nest, but some hornet's nests demand stirring.