20 Deadly Years of Wasted Opportunities Since 9/11

With communities across the country in dire need of investment, Lindsay Koshgarian says the case for avoiding more pointless  wars couldn’t be clearer.

Long Island Expressway in New York City shut down due to flash flooding from post-tropical storm Ida’s landfall, Sept. 2. (Tommy Gao, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Lindsay Koshgarian

Twenty years have now passed since 9/11.

The 20 years since those terrible attacks have been marked by endless wars, harsh immigration crackdowns, and expanded federal law enforcement powers that have cost U.S. citizens their privacy and targeted entire communities based on nothing more than race, religion or ethnicity.

Those policies have also come at a tremendous monetary cost — and a dangerous neglect of domestic investment.

In a new report I co-authored with my colleagues at the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, we found that the federal government has spent $21 trillion on war and militarization both inside the U.S. and around the world over the past 20 years. That’s roughly the size of the entire U.S. economy.

Even while politicians have written blank checks for militarism year after year, they’ve said they can’t afford to address our most urgent issues. No wonder these past 20 years have been rough on U.S. families and communities.

After strong growth from 1970 to 2000, household incomes have stagnated for 20 years as Americans struggled through two recessions in the years leading up to the pandemic. As pandemic eviction moratoriums end, millions are at risk of homelessness.

U.S. soldier on night patrol in 2012 near Combat Outpost Terezayi in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army, James Estrada)

U.S. public health systems have also been chronically underfunded, leaving the U.S. helpless to enact the testing, tracing and quarantining that helped other countries limit the pandemic’s damage. Over 650,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 — the equivalent of a 9/11 every day for over seven months. The opioid epidemic claims another 50,000 lives a year.

Meanwhile extreme weather events like wildfires, hurricanes and floods have grown in frequency over the past 20 years. The U.S. hasn’t invested nearly enough in either renewable energy or climate resiliency to deal with the increasing effects climate change has on its communities.

In the face of all this suffering, it’s clear that $21 trillion in spending hasn’t made anyone safer.

Instead, the human costs have been staggering. Around the world, the forever wars have cost 900,000 lives and left 38 million homeless — and as the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has shown us, they were a massive failure.

Militarized spending has helped deport 5 million people over the past 20 years, often taking parents from their children. The majority of those deported hadn’t committed any crime except for being in the U.S. 

And it has paid for the government to listen in on phone calls and target communities for harassment and surveillance without any evidence of crime or wrongdoing, eroding the civil liberties of all Americans.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining: We’ve found that for just a fraction of what the U.S. government spent on militarization these last 20 years, it’s possible to start to make life much better.

For $4.5 trillion, the U.S. could build a renewable, upgraded energy grid for the whole country. For $2.3 trillion, it could create 5 million $15-an-hour jobs with benefits — for 10 years. For just $25 billion, it could vaccinate low-income countries against Covid-19, saving lives and stopping the march of new and more threatening virus variants.

It could do all that and more for less than half of what it’s spent on wars and militarization in the last 20 years. With communities across the country in dire need of investment, the case for avoiding more pointless, deadly wars couldn’t be clearer.

The best time for those investments would have been during the past 20 years. The next best time is now.

Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This article is from OtherWords.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

7 comments for “20 Deadly Years of Wasted Opportunities Since 9/11

  1. val
    September 12, 2021 at 04:03

    Yes and don’t forget houseless people and the current state of nationwide evictions and more people in outdoor encampments with winter coming not to mention no medicare for all and the abusive systems in place that chooses to harm and hurt our elderly and offer little to no support for struggling families. They spend the people’s monies on wars because enough of us have not spoken up and stood against these injustices and atrocities. So many so called progressives voted for biden cause they said its better than trump.

    None of those people care for the old, homeless, disabled, young. A vote for any of them is a wasted vote. They said vote for biden cause at least we will be able to convince him. Oh Really? Been in Wash. dc for 50 years, what has he done for the people? Give us a hard way to go. 50 years is more than enough for me to see what he was about. Now he says veterans, veterans unvaccinated cannot get VA services, but he excluded Generals, from his orders. Hypocrite. I truly do not like him.

  2. Ray Knowles
    September 10, 2021 at 15:14

    All true, but WE HAVE GUNS!

  3. Ned Hoke
    September 10, 2021 at 11:46

    In the various human efforts there are what is often called “standards of practice”. In boat building there are attachment schedules so the builders see and are reminded to fulfill each step appropriately. Our culture with its power and money fixations has again built a boat that sinks right off the dock of its creation. This article reports on and respects the human costs of following along with such misguidance and failed ship building. Yet the stock market continues to report about the profit side of these activities. With the standards of practice built for profit and for boats that sink our vast cultural failure devastates it’s people.

  4. John Cooper
    September 10, 2021 at 10:09

    Does it occur to anyone else that the trillions of dollars America has spent on the recently concluded 20-year military experiment in ‘nation building’ imposed on the hapless peoples of Afghanistan might better have been expended on constructive, proactive, prospective repairing and constructing infra-structure in the vicinities of LA, MS, NJ and NY and points in between to the benefit of victims of Ida, Sandy, Katrina and other ‘natural’, but completely foreseeable, disasters here at home?
    Perhaps it would benefit millions more, at home and abroad, were America to exercise its hubris domestically and put its military to work building bridges and dikes here rather than destroying them abroad. Just a thought. 4 IX 21

  5. Zhu
    September 9, 2021 at 23:47

    Probably our Fearless Leaders will pursue war with China and Russia instead. :-(

    • rosemerry
      September 10, 2021 at 15:49

      That is what they are already planning. Besides the terrible waste, the alleged motive for attacking these “threats” is the fact that they have dared to prepare a defense against “our” constant increase in encircling, harassing, poking, sanctioning, blaming them for wanting to be sovereign and advancing their interests, as “we” do ours.

    September 9, 2021 at 19:16

    We have to stop enriching the Military Industrial Complex and spend that money on the American People for Medicare For all—Renewable energy—fighting climate change—-the pandemic—-and end the forever wars—-etc.

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