News & Politics

One of Largest Transfers of Public Wealth to Private Hands: Our Staggering War Economy

The cost of our massive military and endless wars is almost beyond comprehension, and non stop.

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The money should stagger you. Journalist James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, a revelatory new book about the scammers, counterterrorism grifters, careerist bureaucrats, torture con artists, and on-the-make privatizers of our post-9/11 national security state, suggests that the best figure for money spent on Washington’s war on terror, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, is four trillion dollars. If you add in the bills still to come for the care of American soldiers damaged in that global war, the figure is undoubtedly significantly higher. In the process, an array of warrior corporations were mobilized to go into battle alongside the Pentagon and the country’s intelligence and homeland security outfits. This, in turn, transformed the global struggle into a highly privatized affair and resulted, as Risen vividly documents, in “one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history.” Halliburton offshoot KBR, for instance, took remarkable advantage of the opportunity and became “the largest single Pentagon contractor of the entire war,” more or less monopolizing the Iraq war zone from 2003 to 2011 and “receiving a combined total of $39.5 billion in contracts.”

So our four trillion dollar-plus investment gave rise to a crew of war profiteers that Risen dubs “the oligarchs of 9/11” and who are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.  And how has it gone for the rest of us? If you remember, the goal of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (or, in one of the worst acronyms of the new century, GWOT) was initially to wipe out terror outfits across the planet. At the time, enemy number one, al-Qaeda, was the most modest of organizations with thousands of followers in Afghanistan and scattered groups of supporters elsewhere. Thirteen years and all those dollars later, Islamic jihadist outfits that qualify as al-Qaeda branches, wannabes, look-alikes, or offshoots have run rampant. Undoubtedly, far more foreign jihadis -- an estimated 15,000 -- have traveled to Syria alone to fight for the Islamic State and its new “caliphate” than existed globally in 2001.

Some recent figures from the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace give us a basis for thinking about what’s happened in these years.  In 2013 alone, deaths related to “terrorism” -- that is, civil/sectarian conflict in areas significantly destabilized directly or indirectly by U.S. military action (mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria) -- rose by a soaring 61%.  The number of countries that saw more than 50 such fatalities (the U.S. not among them) expanded from 15 to 24 in the same period. So raise your glass to GWOT.  If nothing else, it's managed to ensure its own profitable, privatized future for years to come.

But here's a question: After 13 years of the war on terror, with terror running rampant, isn’t a name change in order? A simple transformation of a single preposition would bring that name into greater sync with reality: the war for terror.

And here’s a seldom-mentioned guarantee that leaps directly from a post by TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. Given Washington's bedrock assumptions about the Greater Middle East, we should have no problem kissing another four trillion taxpayer dollars goodbye in the years to come. Eight trillion? If that isn’t a record, what is?  Some “USA! USA!” chants might be in order. 

 

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