It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and included the hijacking and crashing of four airliners with all their passengers. The casualties resulting from the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history was 2,977 people killed and more than 6,000 others injured.
Not long after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush launched U.S. military invasions and occupations in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Presidents who succeeded Bush continued these wars and expanded the field of battle to include Somalia, Libya, Yemen and other nations around the globe.
A new report from the National Priorities Project titled, “State of Insecurity: The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11,” found that the U.S. “War on Terror” cost the United States government more than $21 trillion at home and overseas on militaristic policies that led to the creation of a vast surveillance apparatus, worsened mass incarceration, intensified the war on immigrant communities and caused incalculable human suffering in nations targeted by the Pentagon. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the National Priorities Project and lead author of the report, who summarizes the study’s disturbing findings.
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: So when we were thinking about this report, we were looking forward to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and thinking about all the ways that our country and the world have changed since then. In particular, all of the ways that we’ve changed as a result of our response to 9/11. And that includes everything from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been spread to other countries, to Syria and Pakistan and Yemen and other places. But it also includes a lot of our immigration and border policies here, which all shifted after 9/11 as part of the U.S. response and a big part of why we are where we are today on those things. So we wanted to understand all of this and kind of look at overall as part of the response to 9/11 and the militarization of the U.S. both in terms of our wars abroad, but also right here within our own borders. All of what’s taken place in the last 20 years as a result of 9/11, and also what we didn’t do, because we were so focused on that response. And what we found is that over the last 20 years, the response to 9/11 in terms of the military, our wars and militarization of the border and immigration and federal law enforcement has cost $21 trillion.
SCOTT HARRIS: What do we know about the death toll and the destruction that was wrought in these wars launched post 9/11?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yeah, well, thanks to colleagues of ours at the Cost of War Project at Brown University, they’ve estimated that there have been 900,000 lives lost, nearly a million people in the U.S. war on terror over the last 20 years. And there have been almost 40 million people who’ve lost their homes, have been displaced and are now refugees, within either their own countries or refugees from their own countries. So it’s, it’s a tremendous human toll. And of course, you know, we focus on the dollars or a budget project, but the human toll of course, is what we’re really looking at. What really matters here is the fact that these wars have cost 900,000 lives, including many, many civilians where we’ve all been hearing a lot about the U. S. drone attack in Afghanistan recently that killed 10 people, including seven children. And there has been attack after attack like that in Afghanistan and these other countries over the last 20 years. And we haven’t heard about most of them, but the cumulative toll of all of them has been tremendous.
SCOTT HARRIS: One of the essential questions that comes out of 20 years of this war on terror after the 9/11 attacks, is America safer than it was on Sept. 10, 2001?
LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yes, that is an essential question. And part of what we do in this report is think about that question. Not just in terms of terrorism, right? That was, you know, the event on 9/11 that spurred all of this was a terrorist attack. But that, isn’t the only thing that is putting us in danger. In fact, right now, it’s far from the top of the list of things that are putting us in danger. So, you know, thinking about the pandemic, which has cost more than 600,000 lives just in this country, thinking about things like the opioid epidemic, which costs almost 50,000 lives every year in this country, thinking about things like the housing crisis, where right now we have a situation where when eviction moratoriums end, there’ll be millions of us who are at risk of being homeless because of how the economy has shifted under everyone’s feet during COVID. I’m thinking about things like that.
You know, those things are security, too, right? We need health; we need housing; we need mental health. And all of those things are forms of security, too. We look at how we haven’t invested in those things as a result of our big investments in counterterrorism, and then all of the spinoffs of that around immigration and federal law enforcement and all of those things. And we also look at the way that it’s not just that the response to 9/11 hasn’t made us safer. It’s actually made the world more dangerous. And that’s probably the most clear when you look at what’s happening in Afghanistan right now, where it’s incredibly clear that it has not made Afghanistan safer. And in fact, Afghanistan is just as bad off as it ever was, and probably worse because of our 20 years of war there. So some of those are some of the ways that it has made us not just not made us safer, but made us much less safe.
For more information, visit the National Priorities Project at nationalpriorities.org.