Bin Laden and the War Against the U.S. Economy
If you missed the Rachel Maddow segment Tuesday night on "War on terror fought on bin Laden's terms," watch it.
For a similar, shorter perspective, Ezra Klein has more:
For bin Laden, in other words, success was not to be measured in body counts. It was to be measured in deficits, in borrowing costs, in investments we weren’t able to make in our country’s continued economic strength. And by those measures, bin Laden landed a lot of blows.
Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you’re looking at yet another trillion. And don’t forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.
Then there’s the post-9/11 slowdown in the economy, the rise in oil prices as a result of the Iraq War, the cost of rebuilding Ground Zero, health care for the first responders and much, much more.
But it isn’t quite right to say bin Laden cost us all that money. We decided to spend more than a trillion dollars on homeland security measures to prevent another attack. We decided to invade Iraq as part of a grand, post-9/11 strategy of Middle Eastern transformation. We decided to pass hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts and add an unpaid-for prescription drug benefit in Medicare while we were involved in two wars. And now, partially though not entirely because of these actions, we are deep in debt. Bin Laden didn't—couldn't—bankrupt us. He could only provoke us into bankrupting ourselves. And he came pretty close.
Bin Laden had experience with this before with the Afghan mujaheddin fighting the former Soviet Union from 1979 and until 1989, when the last of the troops were withdrawn. Just before, tellingly, the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cost of that war might have been as high as $9 billion per year for the Soviets, costs that the empire could not well absorb along with the Reagan arms race and attempting to hold the union, and Eastern Europe, in the Soviet realm.
Bin Laden used that experience to judge us, and did so rightly: "We didn't need to respond to 9/11 by trying to reshape the entire Middle East, but we’re a superpower, and we think on that scale. We didn't need to respond to failed attempts to smuggle bombs onto airplanes through shoes and shampoo bottles by screening all footwear and banning large shampoo bottles, but we're a superpower, and our tolerance for risk is extremely low. His greatest achievement was getting our psychology at least somewhat right."
But now there's a choice for America, and now is a fantastic time for the government to start re-evaluating those choices. Bin Laden helped destroy the Soviet Union economically, and he made a damned good start on doing it to the United States. But it isn't done yet.