Does The Pentagon Want To Leave The Middle East?

The true cost of almost two decades at war.

Robert Potter
Dec 9, 2020 · 7 min read

The value we ascribe to American lives.

A 2019 study, put out by Brown University’s Cost of War Project, set the total overall cost of all US obligations and engagements in the Middle East since 2001 at $6.4 trillion. Roughly, that amounts to about $340 billion a year spent for military operations in the Middle East, or alternatively, approximately $3 billion spent avenging every soul on board those airplanes and in the World Trade Center. Now, it’s important to note that there is a worthy debate as to whether or not the US would have been drawn into some of these conflicts whether 9/11 had occurred or not. Even so, the comparison is worth noting. Close to $3 billion has been spent in the name of everyone we lost on that day.

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Estimate of Global War on Terror Spending through FY2020 in Billions of Current Dollars and Percentages. Source: Brown University Study
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Chart: FY 2019 Federal Budget: Trump’s Budget Request Source: Office of Management and Budget

Compared to the value we ascribe to others.

In 2018, Brown University’s Cost of War Project put out another study that estimated, “between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” The project readily admits that even this figure is an undercount, going on to state, “This tally of the counts and estimates of direct deaths caused by war violence does not include the more than 500,000 deaths from the war in Syria, raging since 2011, which the US joined in August 2014,” and that, “this tally does not include ‘indirect deaths.’ Indirect harm occurs when wars’ destruction leads to long term, “indirect,” consequences for people’s health in war zones, for example because of loss of access to food, water, health facilities, electricity or other infrastructure.

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Direct War Deaths in Major War Zones. Source: A 2019 Cost of War Brown University Study

Was this all worth it?

Ultimately, the political reality in all of this is that some version of the US going to war in the Middle East was probably inevitable. If Al Gore had been president instead of George Bush, the US still would have sought out military retribution in some form after 9/11. Everyone forgets that the months following the attack made staunch hawks out of even the most bleeding-heart liberals. The infamous 2001 Authorization For Use of Military Force (AUMF) that undergirds all of the US’s domestic authority to wage these wars passed through Congress near-universally save for one prescient vote from Rep. Barbara Lee.

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