Experiments with Truth: News

Biggest threat to U.S. national security: wars

In 2004, Osama bin Laden explained how his terrorists were going to win its struggle against a vastly more powerful adversary: al-Qaida sought to “blee[d] America to the point of bankruptcy.” Bin Laden is dead and his organization is a shadow of what it once was. Yet a new paper from a Harvard lecturer suggests that he had a point.

Linda J. Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School estimates that the wars bin Laden provoked the U.S. into launching over the past decade have cost “somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion.” She reaches that staggeringly high total by calculating not just what the U.S. spent on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also what it will spend on veterans’ health care and benefits; equipment refurbishment; future commitments made to the Iraqi and Afghan governments the U.S. sponsors; and the repayment of the debt incurred by financing the wars through foreign borrowing. Notably, by Bilmes’ framework, the real costs of the wars will only manifest long after the troops have come home.

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