The Financial Cost of the US 'War on Terror'
November 14, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Caroline Houck / Defense One & Marcus Weisgerber / Defense One
The cost of America's Global War on Terror has yet to be tabulated, and there's a very good reason for that. By and large, the US has not been paying for all of these wars, but rather has been borrowing to pay for the conflict. Analysts say a reckoning is coming -- even as Republicans seek tax cuts that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the national debt. The US is on a path to destroying itself in the name of "defense."
Report: Post-9/11 War Debt Will Cost $8 Trillion in Interest
US Paying for Terror War With Massive Borrowing
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(November 12, 2017) -- The cost of America's global war on terror has yet to be reckoned with, and there's a very good reason for that. By and large, the US has not been paying for all of these wars, but rather has been borrowing to pay for the conflict.
In the long run that's going to be expensive. Paying off the war is going to mean not only paying the prices of the conflict but the massive interest accrued in borrowing the cost of those wars.
A new report suggests that just the interest on all that debt will, over the course of decades of servicing it, cost an estimated $8 trillion. So far, they say, the US has paid $534 billion in overseas contingency operations interest.
And that's just the debt already accrued. America's assorted wars show no sign of ending, and indeed the Pentagon has been pretty clear about the US deployment in Iraq being a permanent thing.
When the government talks about the "cost" of the terror war, they generally limit their reckoning to specific costs of overseas operations. Yet decades of veteran costs will doubtless dwarf that, and the interest on top of it will swell final costs to even higher levels.
The question of whether America can afford all of this, of course, was never addressed in the first place. Indeed, with so little of the cost being paid at all, the expectation seems to be that they'll just keep borrowing.
Paying Off Post-9/11 War Debt
Could Cost $8 Trillion: Report
Caroline Houck / Defense One
(November 9, 2017) -- The post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have been fought with borrowed money, enough to require up to $8 trillion in interest payments in coming decades, a new report says.
Unlike America's previous wars, its 21st-century conflicts have been paired not with a tax hike or massive sale of US bonds, but a tax cut. The federal government has been operating at a deficit since 2002, accruing a national debt that now totals $20 trillion and counting.
"We have to recognize that we have been borrowing for 16 years to pay for military operations," said Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's the "first time really in history with any major conflict that we have borrowed rather than ask people to contribute to the national defense directly, and the result is we've got this huge fiscal drag…that we're not really accounting for or factoring into deliberations about fiscal policy as well as military policy."
The 2017 report from Brown University's Costs of War Project arrives as US lawmakers and President Donald Trump strive to enact tax changes that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the national debt.
By coincidence, $1.5 trillion is also roughly how much the United States has spent on wars since 2001, at least according to the Pentagon's most recent estimate. But the Cost of War Project researchers take a broader view of "war-related spending" by the federal government. They include State Department security funding, care for veterans, and interest on the related debt. Their latest annual report, released today, calculates that the last 16 years have seen the United States spend $4.3 trillion on the wars.
So far, they estimate, the US has paid $534 billion on interest on borrowed Overseas Contingency Operations funding. That will only grow.
"Even if the US stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, interest costs alone on borrowing to pay for the wars will continue to grow apace," says the report, written by Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Boston University. "By 2056, a conservative estimate is that interest costs will be about $8 trillion unless the US changes the way that it pays for the wars."
Concerns about how the government is paying for its overseas footprint were enough to persuade the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, break from his colleagues in their full-fledged support of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Both Armed Services Committees agreed on Wednesday to pass a $700-billion defense authorization bill for 2018. That's about $85 billion more than allowed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The NDAA announcement came as Republican lawmakers worked to whip up enough votes to pass a tax reform bill by year's end.
The Congressional Budget Office says the GOP tax plan would add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said "the greatest threat to our national security is the national debt." He also said the tax cut wasn't compounding the problem. It's a short-term "investment."
"You can't fix this long-term problem unless you grow the economy and you're not going to grow the economy unless you fix taxes," he said.
Whether the GOP tax plan is enacted or not -- and minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer was ebullient and emboldened about Democrats' chances to scuttle or reshape it after Tuesday's state elections -- the current model of funding US wars overseas will have to be reckoned with.
In the early years of the war when the deficits started blooming, the US had a relatively low debt. As it compounds, that changes the calculus on defense spending, said Todd Harrison, who directs defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"I think we're in a different place now than we were in 2001," Harrison said. " All of these factors did not exist then and now start to conspire to depress defense spending. They very well may weigh on the defense budget in the 2020s…Then when you combine that with tax cuts which are also going to make the deficit higher, it's all putting downward pressure on defense budgets."
Caroline Houck is a staff correspondent at Defense One. She previously was an Atlantic Media fellow.
Here's How Much of Your Taxes Have Gone To Wars
Marcus Weisgerber / Defense One
(September 27, 2017) -- As of Monday, the average American taxpayer will have paid nearly $7,500 to fund the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria since the 9/11 attacks, according to previously unreported Pentagon budget data sent to Congress this summer.
This fiscal year, each US taxpayers will pay about $289 for both wars, according to the Defense Department data. Next year -- fiscal 2018 -- that number would drop to $281 per taxpayer, if Congress were to pass the White House's spending request unchanged, which won't happen. And there's another reason that number is likely to change: the Trump administration's plan to send more American troops to Afghanistan.
Americans paid the most for the wars in 2010, an average of $767 apiece. The annual amount declined through 2016 to $204 per taxpayer, before growing again as the US ramped up its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. . . .
The Biggest Bills for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Are Yet to Come
Linda J. Bilmes / Defense One
(May 30, 2017) -- Benefits for World War I veterans didn't peak until 1969. Here's a way to keep 21st-century vets' expenses from eating the US budget.
Each Memorial Day, we pay respects to the fallen from past wars – including the more than one million American soldiers killed in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.
Yet the nation's longest and most expensive war is the one that is still going on. In addition to nearly 7,000 troops killed, the 16-year conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost an estimated US$6 trillion due to its prolonged length, rapidly increasing veterans health care and disability costs and interest on war borrowing. On this Memorial Day, we should begin to confront the staggering cost and the challenge of paying for this war.
The enormous figure reflects not just the cost of fighting -- like guns, trucks and fuel -- but also the long-term cost of providing medical care and disability compensation for decades beyond the end of the conflict. Consider the fact that benefits for World War I veterans didn't peak until 1969. For World War II veterans, the peak came in 1986. Payments for Vietnam-era vets are still climbing.
The high rates of injuries and increased survival rates in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that over half the 2.5 million who served there suffered some degree of disability. Their health care and disability benefits alone will easily cost $1 trillion in coming decades. . . .
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