9/11 and a Measure of Bin Laden's Success

By Steve Clemons

US Defense Spending Trends 2000-2011.jpg
(click image for larger version)

The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 will be upon us soon - and it got me to thinking what the now dead Osama bin Laden was able to achieve in terms of achieving one of his goals - getting the US to spend a lot of treasure on trying to feel more safe in an unsafe world.

If one uses the $294 billion FY2000 defense budget as a baseline and presumes that global security in a post Cold War context would remain fairly consistent with blips of concern and challenge here and there, then one could measure the gap between what a defense budget adjusted for inflation over time would have been compared to what the 9/11-triggered spending reality was.

And the answer is interesting, and somewhat disturbing -- particularly given the intense budget debates under way in the nation.

The US has spent cumulatively $2.263 trillion more than the FY2011 baseline.

Here is a quick run down of the amounts spent above the FY2000 levels adjusted each year to grow with inflation:

2001 - $16B

2002 - $45.2B

2003 - $144.9B

2004 - $167.3B

2005 - $161.9B

2006 - $205.5B

2007 - $259.1B

2008 - $302.6B

2009 - $305B

2010 - $325.2B

2011 - $329.7B

Total $2262.5B

I asked a friend of mine to chart this out and have pasted the pdf above. I should note that I think that there is a mistake in the black line above which is supposed to chart the FY2000 budget over time adjusted only for inflation. One would not see such a rise and fall in the early part of the line - so when that is fixed, I'll repost it. Nonetheless, it does show generally what Osama bin Laden was able to get us to do.

The other interesting take-away is that $2.263 trillion roughly equates to about 7 million sustained jobs in the private U.S. economy, sustained over these entire ten years.

There are problems in equating US government spending on wars to what might have been done with those resources in the private economy - but again, in terms of broad benchmarks in a time of constraint and very harsh offsets, I think it is illustrative to consider whether the collective costs of Afghanistan and Iraq - costs and obligations which will continue for decades given the benefits and health support that deployed military will receive - have been part of America's job deficit misery.

Bin Laden is gone, and I'm glad - but one of the challenges we need to deal with at some point, perhaps after the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, is why we so easily fell into the groove of spending at the levels he wanted to trigger.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/07/9-11-and-a-measure-of-bin-ladens-success/241373/