Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"From the civilians harmed and displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan..."

"From the civilians harmed and displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors," the new report states. (Photo: Lynn Friedman/flickr/cc)

Nation That Says It Can't Afford Medicare for All Has Spent $5.6 Trillion on War Since 9/11

Because, as new study notes, wars force the question: "What we might have done differently with the money spent?"

Andrea Germanos

A new analysis offers a damning assessment of the United States' so-called global war on terror, and it includes a "staggering" estimated price tag for wars waged since 9/11—over $5.6 trillion.

The Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Center says the figure—which covers the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from 2001 through 2018—is the equivalent of more than $23,386 per taxpayer.

The "new report," said Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action's senior director for policy and political affairs, "once again shows that the true #costofwar represents a colossal burden to taxpayers on top of the tremendous human loss."

The center's figure is far greater than the $1.5 trillion the Pentagon estimated (pdf) in July for the costs of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as it gives a fuller picture by including "war-related spending by the State Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security," writes Neta C. Crawford, a professor of political science at Boston University.

"As obscene as it is to waste so much money, it is more obscene to waste human life."
—Win Without War
Her report notes that even the $5.6 trillion tally underestimates the true figures, as it doesn't capture "every budgetary expense related to these wars," such as state and local costs to take care of veterans; nor does it take into account the funds used for military equipment "gifts" to countries involved in the conflicts.

"In sum," it states, "although this report's accounting is comprehensive, there are still billions of dollars not included in its estimate."

In addition, as the Washington, D.C.-based organization Win Without War notes, "let's not forget that when we talk about what war costs there are also human costs. As obscene as it is to waste so much money, it is more obscene to waste human life."

Crawford's report hammers home that point:

Moreover, a full accounting of any war's burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger. From the civilians harmed and displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors. Wars also entail an opportunity cost—what we might have done differently with the money spent and obligated and how veterans' and civilians' lives could have been lived differently."

Echoing a point made by other observers of failed U.S. counter-terrorism strategies, the report states that "the more people the U.S. kills, the more seem to join the organizations the U.S. was already fighting, even as new radical groups spring up."

The report also suggests the war costs will only continue to pile up: "There is no end in sight to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the associated operations in Pakistan. Similarly, despite recent gains, there is little clear sense of how long the U.S. will be engaged in Iraq and Syria."

Reacting to the new report, William D. Hartung , director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, writes in an op-ed at The Hill: "Was this huge expenditure of blood and treasure worth it? Did it substantially reduce the risks of terrorism, or reduce the likelihood of future conflicts? The short answer is no."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo