Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

"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.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·


Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·


UN Chief Warns of 'Ocean Emergency' as Leaders Confront Biodiversity Loss, Pollution

"We must turn the tide," said Secretary-General António Guterres. "A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future."

Julia Conley ·


'I Don't F—ing Care That They Have Weapons': Trump Wanted Security to Let Armed Supporters March on Capitol

"They're not here to hurt me," Trump said on the day of the January 6 insurrection, testified a former aide to ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo