An soldier from the US Army A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment watches the blur of a convoy in Iraq. (AP Photo/John Moore)
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A trillion dollars. It’s a lot of money. In a year it could send 127 million college students to school, provide health insurance for 206 million people, or pay the salaries of seven million schoolteachers and seven million police officers. A trillion dollars could do a lot of good. It could transform or save a lot of lives. Now, imagine doubling the money; no, tripling it. How about quadrupling it, maybe quintupling it, or even sextupling it? Unfortunately, you really will have to imagine that, because the money to do it isn’t there. It was (or will be) spent on Washington’s disastrous post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
War, the military-industrial complex, and the national security state that go with it cost in every sense an arm and a leg. And that, in the twenty-first century, has been where so many American tax dollars have gone.
That’s because the cost of war always turns out to be more than estimated. Who could forget the $60 billion high-end figure the Bush administration offered in early 2003 as its estimate for its coming invasion of Iraq? A decade later, we’ve spent $814 billion in Iraq to date with the full price tag yet to come in. Recently, when the Obama administration was planning to launch Tomahawk missiles against Syria, just about nobody even bothered to talk about what it would have cost. (Before Washington even considered such a strike, the Tomahawk program was already costing US taxpayers $36,000 per hour all year long.)
This reality has slowly sunk into American consciousness, which may be why the public in opinion polls has proven so clearly opposed to jumping into another overseas conflict when tax dollars are desperately needed at home.
And those Tomahawk missiles are just icing on the cake of what this country spends on its military and the national security state that goes with it, estimated at nearly a trillion dollars a year. A fire hose of taxpayer cash—to the tune of around $600 billion—gets pumped into the Department of Defense each year (and that doesn’t include the “civilian” intelligence community or the Department of Homeland Security).
The spending on that war machine is so profligate, in fact, that the Pentagon has never successfully completed an audit; its officials can’t even tell you where all that money goes. The US accounts for a staggering 40 percent of all military expenditures globally. And some members of Congress—their bread buttered by military contractors—are ready to use the next war, whether in Syria or elsewhere, as a pretext to sustain or even expand our current wartime military budget.