$6 Trillion Down the Drain

W.J. Astore

America recently marked the 18th anniversary of the Iraq War by basically ignoring it. The 20th anniversary of the Afghan War approaches, and it appears we’ll get there since President Biden is saying U.S. forces can’t leave until this November at the earliest. Apparently, our withdrawal of troops must be “responsible” and based on ever-changing benchmarks. Leaving aside the harrowing human cost, these calamitous wars have cost the American taxpayer at least $6 trillion, yet they go on and on.

One person who’s learned a lot from these wars is Andrew Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army colonel who runs the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. In his latest article for TomDispatch.com, Bacevich had this to say about America’s seemingly unending pursuit of peace through war:

The longest war in U.S. history [the Afghan War] should by now have led Americans to reflect on the consequences that stem from succumbing to imperial temptations in a world where empire has long since become obsolete. Some might insist that present-day Americans have imbibed that lesson. In Washington, hawks appear chastened, with few calling for President Biden to dispatch U.S. troops to Yemen or Myanmar or even Venezuela, our oil-rich “neighbor,” to put things right. For now, the nation’s appetite for military intervention abroad appears to be sated.

But mark me down as skeptical. Only when Americans openly acknowledge their imperial transgressions will genuine repentance become possible. And only with repentance will avoiding further occasions to sin become a habit. In other words, only when Americans call imperialism by its name will vows of “never again” deserve to be taken seriously.

Bacevich is right to be skeptical. The prevailing narrative in the USA still rejects the notion of imperial wars. America’s wars are always sold as defensive. Put simply, we allegedly fight “them” over there so we won’t have to fight them over here. The Afghan War is still being sold as preventing terrorist attacks on America. The Iraq War was sold as preventing Saddam Hussein from using his non-existent weapons of mass destruction against us. In short, Americans are routinely sold a false bill of goods, and the price tag attached, $6 trillion and rising, again leaving aside the human cost, is truly prodigal to behold.

I urge you to read all of Bacevich’s article here. And I urge all Americans to think about our leaders’ imperial ambitions and their horrendous costs. Like the Romans, we are too fond of creating deserts with our weaponry and calling it “peace.” We can and must open our eyes and do better.

War is not pretty, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria or Anywhere

18 thoughts on “$6 Trillion Down the Drain

  1. With all due respect to Mr Bacevich (whose writing I enjoy) the notion of “repentance” is a pipedream. Empires – ascending or in decline – don’t say they’re sorry and don’t ask for forgiveness. (Need I say it’s also un-American? Who hasn’t seen the opening minutes of “Patton”?)
    With no one being forced to fight in Afghanistan – it’s a volunteer army – the American people have no incentive to care. It’s not in the news, Congress never questions it, and the country has nothing to offer the US. Unlike Vietnam, Afghanistan is not likely to become a big time trading partner with us.
    As far as the money “invested” goes … no one cares about that, either. Such sums, like intergalactic distances, are beyond comprehension. If you don’t feel it on payday, it may as well be $600 trillion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All solid points, sadly.

      Indeed, Congress is often at pains to support the military’s narrative, e.g. there hasn’t been another 9/11-type attack, therefore the war on terror has worked.

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        1. Are there enough Uighurs to effect any destablization, and how would they do it? I hadn’t heard this theory before, and I have no clue about the numbers involved. Interesting thought, though….

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    2. BUTSUDANBILL : Speaking of “Intergalactic Distances” If we found a habitable Planet just 1 Light Year away it would take current technology & speed of Spacecraft approx. 27, 000 Yrs. For a Probe only. Manned we’d need advanced Robotics to wake a hibernating cryogenically preserved Human space crew! I don’t really see anything like this happening in the near future. Great analogy…We’re pretty much locked up in our own Solar System— thankfully in regards for the rest of the Universe is safe for now.:/ :o)

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. I think that’s not because they’re stupid but because “staying the course” is profitable in some way, e.g. more weapons sales, higher military budgets, maintaining a narrative that war is necessary. We need to consider domestic politics as well, with Republicans always looking for a reason to bash Democrats as weak and soft, thus the latter try to out-hawk the hawks by lustily supporting war and weapons.

      When you dare to criticize regime-change wars and call for fresh thinking, you get smeared. Just ask Tulsi Gabbard, whose status as a veteran and serving major in the National Guard didn’t insulate her from charges of being a Russian asset of sorts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually I am, right now, watching hoards of Taliban in human wave attacks coming over the top of the hill at 59th street, just 5 houses north of me. And I’m terrified.
    Hang on. Oh. Just needed to clean the dust specks off my glasses.
    Okay, no invasion.

    Just being silly but maybe we need to imagine something that silly (stupidly so) in order to get a little perspective. What is the real evaluation on who is or can invade our country? What would it take. Who could do it? I didn’t see any Taliban on January 6th in the capitol. But I did see quite a few invaders.

    Still, there is business to be planted and grown by selling us on the line of threats. Such as the CIA / Gehlen Org after WWII selling us on the threat of communism (under every rug, behind every piece of furniture and so forth). (Remember that General Reinhard Gehlen was Hitler’s chief of intelligence for the eastern front and Russia who went to Allan Dulles selling himself not as a former Nazi but as a fellow commie fighter who had thousands of agents ready to go to work for the US and other former enemies.) We still have the active echoes and resugences from that start. Coup after coup (dozens) happened because of Gehlen and Dulles and bros. When I went to “Black Panther” and the warm and fuzzy CIA agent (played by the amiable Martin Freeman) was introduced I turned immediately to my companion and whispered “Patrice Lumumba.” Actually, after that I Googled to see whether the writers were white. They are black, but ….

    The ugly-nasty Elliot Abrams (I always think “Crypt Keeper”) covering for Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt massacres and William Barr (recent AG) covering for Abrams, and for both to go after Venezuela with the same old boiler plate.

    There is a lot of “hay” to be lofted by tales of threat. Reality doesn’t have to enter into it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. And a lot of money to be made. Think of all that Venezuelan oil! Why do they get to have it all?

      Who put the USA’s oil in Venezuela? It’s not fair, dammit!

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      1. Time to invade Scotland. Turns out that although Scotland is an oil-drilling country, nonetheless, last year (2020) Scotland reached a 97.4% level of renewable energy use. Mostly wind and solar with more being built. Should capture all that energy. Could claim that Scotland is going to the Trump golf course (whatever is left of it) with solar cells and windmills (actually, there was a dispute with Trump over nearby windmills, if I recall correctly, a few years ago – he lost).

        There is a lotta wind to go after :-))

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The topic of Scotland and energy causes me to recall and recommend the film “Local Hero”, now nearly 40 years old, yet both lovely and topical.

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    2. You make a foundational point when you ask who could invade us. To me, that very question was the crux of the Saddam/WMD fairy tale. It was de facto insane to assert that Saddam would launch an attack on the U.S. Doing so would have resulted in relatively limited damage to the the country, while our response would have been to wipe him and all his palaces off the map, an outcome that he would sensibly envision and eschew. As no one believed him to have lost all touch with reality, the WMD argument made no sense even at the time.

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    3. In regard to those imaginary Taliban attacking us, it’s good to contrast the very real Afghan people who suffer from our intervention and have no infrastructure to support them (hospitals, good nutrition, schools). To the American people and certainly to our leaders, those very real Afghans might as well be imaginary…useful only when suddenly we find it useful to say we are their to help them. I would like to see a side by side list of helps and hurts as a result of our presence there for two decades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps more importantly, the real Taliban didn’t start attacking Americans until the invasion of Afghanistan – and since then only in Afghanistan. 9/11 was largely the work of fanatics of Saudi extraction. There was no indication the Taliban, the more or less government of most of Afghanistan at the time aided them in the attacks or indeed hand any knowledge that they were going to happen. They also indicated willingness to work with the US and UN to extradite Bin Laden and his group if the US would show evidence and start the process. The invasion was just too appealing to Bush, Cheney, Rice et al. And look how well it’s al worked out since!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bacevich writes of “…a world where empire has long since become obsolete”. Is that true?

    Through the economic system it dominates and controls, the US has an empire beyond anything that has come before and the Chinese are certainly out to challenge that empire and replace it if possible. Through development loans Wall Street extracts far beyond any empire of the past. Instead of taking physical assets, gold, horses, wheat, packed back to Rome in plain sight, Wall Street does the extraction over the heads of and invisible to the public around the world, not infrequently resulting in economic collapse that can be blamed on incompetent/corrupt local government with the Wall Street banker in the face of blame shrugging his shoulders and saying “who, me?”

    Liked by 2 people

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