Today marks the 20th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attacks that killed 2,977 Americans. These attacks were carried out by 19 men—15 Saudi Arabians, two Emiratis, one Egyptian and one Lebanese—of the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
In another seven days, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the US government’s response: the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which authorized “the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”
On September 14, 2001, just three days after the attack, Democratic Senator Tom Daschle introduced the AUMF resolution to the Senate. On the same day, it passed the Senate (98-0) with no Republican or Democratic votes against it, and then the House (420-1) with one lone vote against it.
Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, the lone no vote, said days later that the measure was “a blank check” granting the president unlimited powers to wage war anywhere without debate or time limit. History proved her right. The AUMF would go on to be used to allow military deployment in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, and Somalia.
Four days later, Republican President George W. Bush signed the AUMF into law. “In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration,” Lee later wrote.
With total support from both parties and corporate media, the American (and British and Australian and Canadian) military-industrial complex started to beat the drums of war. They’ve been drumming for the past two decades, and show no sign of stopping.
Since the AUMF and the start of the West’s War on A Noun (Terror), military spending worldwide has risen every single year. It is now double where it was in 2001.
Fighting an Abstract Noun
George Monbiot cuts through the propaganda and hypocrisy of the blood-thirsty media and political hawks by pointing out that “a War on Terror—an attack on an abstract noun—was effectively endless. There’s no way that war could be concluded. There was no exit strategy from a war against an abstract noun. War should be the last resort and not the first resort when you’re trying to solve a problem.”
George W. Bush and his biggest ally Tony Blair blundered into a situation they scarcely understood. The 2015 documentary Bitter Lake, by Adam Curtis, details these repeated failures by men who had no interest in understanding who they would start attacking, starting with the people of Afghanistan in 2001.
Curtis explains: “All the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds. They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them—because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer.
“And this blindness led to a terrible disaster—support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths.
At just short of 20 years, the now-ending U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan was America’s longest war. During that time, the costs were enormous. As of last month, the Associated Press reports, the war’s death toll in Afghanistan is in the many tens of thousands, with Afghans paying the highest price:
Afghan national military and police: 66,000.
Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191.
Afghan civilians: 47,245.
U.S. contractors: 3,846.
American service members: 2,448.
Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144.
Aid workers: 444.
And because the U.S. borrowed most of the money to pay for it, generations of Americans will be burdened by the cost of paying it off. As of 2021, Brown University estimates that the war in Afghanistan has already cost $2.261 trillion. The estimated interest costs by 2050 will be up to $6.5 trillion.
Afghan land is contaminated with unexploded ordnance, which kills and injures tens of thousands of Afghans, especially children, as they travel and go about their daily chores. The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health.
But Afghanistan wasn’t the only thing on the minds of military hawks, who instantly used 9/11 as an excuse to go to war in another country—Iraq. On Sept. 19, 2001, Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, chaired by Richard Perle and featuring Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich, declares that Iraq should be invaded after Afghanistan. The next day—only two days after the AUMF was signed—British PM Tony Blair advises Bush not to lose focus on Al Qaeda. Bush replies: “I agree with you, Tony. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.”
In less than two years, while still fighting their war in Afghanistan, the same political hawks and corporate media from 2001 marched their people into another disastrous war by pushing a lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and was culpable for 9/11.
The casualties of the Iraq war are so high that researchers are forced to estimate the death toll from the Iraq war:
Iraqi civilians: 185,831-208,964.
Iraq national military and police: 45,519-48,719.
Opposition fighters: 34,806-39,881.
American service members: 4,598.
U.S. contractors: 3,650.
Other allied service members: 323.
Aid workers: 63.
The amount of bloodshed and war crimes sparked by the warmongers in the so-called Coalition of the Willing, chiefly George W. Bush and Tony Blair, is hard to even fathom. The consequences of their hubris and overzealous quest at nation-building have caused pain and suffering for hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern people, who they had no interest in helping. Brown University calculates the total cost of the post-9/11 wars is over $8 trillion and a staggering 897,000-929,000 lives from Afghanistan and Iraq, but also Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and other ‘War on Terror’ locations.
As of 2015, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.
How much are countries spending on their militaries?
Endless Money for Endless Wars
As described above, the last twenty years have been a complete waste.
A waste of Afghan, Iraqi and American lives.
And a complete waste of resources.
Global military spending has nearly doubled since 9/11, thanks to Bush and Blair’s War on Terror. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) calculates that global militaries, in 2020, spent:
US $1,981,000,000,000 across the year;
$165,000,000,000 every month;
$38,000,000,000 each week;
$3,700,000 per minute; or
$62,817 every single second of every single day!
Despite global gross domestic product (GDP) shrinking by 4.4 per cent last year, largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world military spending increased by 2.6 percent. Countries always find the money for bigger militaries, even during a global pandemic. The military never goes on a diet.
In 2020 US military expenditure reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019. As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020. But even this isn’t the full picture.
It’s not just Western governments giving billions of dollars to military companies for their own militaries. Autocracies like Saudi Arabia spend billions on American and British arms to fight proxy wars in places like Yemen, which has seen seven years of fighting, where 233,000 people have died and over 3 million people have been forced to flee from their homes.
The United Kingdom signed off on arms exports worth nearly 1.4 billion pounds ($1.9bn) to Saudi Arabia last year. President Trump swept aside objections from Congress in 2019 to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. These pale in comparison to when President Obama offered more than $115 billion in weapons, other military equipment and training to Saudi Arabia in 2016. Countries like the U.S. and UK have no moral standing if they directly or indirectly continue to fund war.
The U.S. has military bases all over the world. They also partner with many host governments, including a large number of African countries with little budget to spare.
U.S. commandos operate on the African continent with the agreement of host governments. More than 14% of US commandos deployed overseas in 2019 were sent to Africa, the largest percentage of any region in the world except for the greater Middle East.
Some operations are conducted under the auspices of the so-called 127e programs, named for a budgetary authority that allows US Special Operations forces to use local military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions. However, the M&G has confirmed that in recent years the US has conducted at least eight 127e programs in Africa, most of them in Somalia. Not only is the U.S. co-opting the budgets of developing nations to fight its own battles, but the U.S. has repeatedly proven to not understand foreign countries. They have a habit of making things worse.
How to Build a Better World
The past 20 years of American foreign policy has been defined by the War on Terror, the decimation of the Middle East, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the wasting of trillions of dollars. Despite this epic failure, there is hope for the future.
The U.S. and the other world powers could shift their budgets away from war and towards peace. To security, not of nations, but of the people affecting by war.
The world’s refugee agency (UNHCR) is chronically underfunded. Last year, UNHCR had a funding gap of $4.8 billion—or less than 22 HOURS of global military spending.
There are some 1.4 million IDPs in Iraq, more than half of whom have been living in displacement for at least three years. There are also some 278,600 Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey for whom UNHCR provides protection and basic services in support of neighbouring countries’ efforts, while also working towards comprehensive solutions. The UNHCR funding gap for Iraq refugees and IDPs ($316 million) could be filled with 86 MINUTES of global military money.
There are 2.6 million conflict displaced IDPs in Afghanistan and a further 2.4 million refugees, largely hosted by Pakistan and Iran. The UNHCR funding shortfall for those affected by the Afghanistan war stands at $161 million, or what global militaries spend in 44 MINUTES!
These low funding levels have forced UNHCR’s operations in Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries to cut or reduce programmes across a range of sectors, including protection monitoring, health services, school construction and vocational skills training.
For every second that war is waged, a refugee family could be resettled somewhere save and free of fear. Instead the bombs keep dropping. And the refugees are forces to risk their lives to find safety.
The Western nations that start wars have a duty to protect the innocent civilians that are forcibly displaced from their homes. They clearly have enough money to do it.
War refugees are just the tip of the iceberg, though.
The climate emergency is going to result in millions more refugees forcibly displaced within their countries and into neighbouring countries, causing widespread instability and insecurity. For example, decreased precipitation and rising temperatures from climate change resulted in desertification and devastation of agricultural land, particularly in eastern Syria. Along with this, 800,000 people lost their income and 85% of the country’s livestock died. These conditions sparked the war in Syria, causing 95,000 civilian deaths, 6.7 million IDPs and 5.5 million refugees and asylum seekers.
Climate change is a threat multiplier for hungry and undernourished people. Countries with high levels of hunger are often also highly vulnerable to climate change, and have a low capacity to adapt.
If the world governments were able to divert just ONE WEEK of military funding each year for the next 10 years, they could end world hunger and reduce the likelihood of climate refugees and conflicts like Syria repeating. It would literal prevent wars. But the military-industrial complex won’t do it unless we make them.
We need to lobby politicians in the West to shift from funding endless wars to programs that actually help people. We need to stop funding bombs and bullets, and start helping the people in poor countries that were victims of war yesterday and are already victims of climate change today. Young activists are challenging those politicians that took us to war and now watch as the world burns. Young people are calling out the moderates who are just as much to blame as the right-wing nationalists.
In February 2019, young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement visited the San Francisco office of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. When asked to support the Green New Deal, Feinstein told the group of children:
“We have tons of money going to the military,” a young girl responded, only to receive a lecture about the realpolitik of passing bills in a Republican-led Senate. Feinstein now sits in a Democratic-led Senate and has done nothing. I think blaming the Republicans was just an excuse.
“When it comes to the climate crisis, offensive Republican environmental destruction is only slightly worse than enlightened Democratic Party environmental destruction.”Matt T. Huber, “Still No Shortcuts for Climate Change”
Dianne Feinstein, like most career Democrats, is a hypocrite and a military hawk. She was happy to vote alongside the Republicans for Trump’s $675 billion defense budget bill for 2019. She was happy to vote for the AUMF, along were her colleague then-Senator Joe Biden.
In the Senate, nearly one-third of the members of the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee own stocks in top defense contractors. Feinstein sits on this subcommittee, which recommended $1.1 billion for six P-8A Poseidon aircraft, which is a maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane made by Boeing. In a clear conflict of interest, her husband owns as much as $650,000 worth of Boeing stock. This is just one example of one politician’s long history of making millions from the military-industrial complex. And this is the Democratic side.
Unlike the impossible-to-exit War on Terror, the climate emergency is currently underway and ignored by all the world’s so-called leaders.
A Green New Deal (GND) is a policy aimed to solve inequality and climate change with a straightforward working-class program based on public investment, a job guarantee, and economic rights to health care, housing, and a living wage. While the Right has consistently used class-based appeals to mobilize opposition to environmental policies, the Left has finally come up with a class-based environmental politics.
The US military’s carbon footprint is enormous and must be confronted in order to have a substantial effect on battling global warming. “An important way to cool off the furnace of the climate emergency is to turn off vast sections of the military machine,” added Dr Neimark. If we divest from war and invest in peaceful development, we can stop creating more war refugees and climate refugees.
The problem is that U.S. politics (like New Labour in the UK) is filled with Republican conservatives and Democratic conservatives like Feinstein and Biden, who are always happy to go to war, spending trillions along the way, but will instantly negate any progress on climate change, because there simply isn’t any “way to pay for it”. People need to start waking up and stop listening to the propaganda of these so-called leaders.
Yes, the GND will cost us. And, yes, the Coalition of the Willing is probably not very willing to act when it means helping their own people. But isn’t spending money to create green jobs better than what’s been tried for the past 20 years. The endless wars. The massive death tolls. And, on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, let us honor those that have died by rejecting any and all calls by the new hawks who argue that “America’s forever war must go on” for they advocate nothing but death and destruction, all in the name of profit and the continuation of the military-industrial complex.
So, how much would it cost to end climate change?
The GND is just a policy and would need to actually gather enough support before it could be implemented. But even the highest estimate—$50 trillion over the next two decades—is only 25% more than what we spend on just the military. With more than 800 million people—11% of the world’s population—already feeling the consequences of climate change in their daily lives, including increased frequency of natural disasters, prolonged droughts, and irregular weather patterns, the real question to ask is:
Can we afford not to act?