What bin Laden Cost the U.S. Economy
Unlike Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden died without ever being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. This distinction is typically bestowed on a person who "for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Bin Laden had been a candidate in 2001 for his role in masterminding the tragic events of Sept. 11, but he lost out to New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.
A decade later; mission: accomplished. Bin Laden, for one generation as much a personification of evil as Hitler was to the Greatest Generation and beyond, was killed by the elite US Navy SEALS in the run-down compound in which he was holed up for five years.
Now analysts and economists are asking: What price bin Laden? What has been his impact on our economy in the decade since 9/11? Never mind the incalculable grief and suffering he caused as the despised face of al-Qaida, which carried out his horrific directives. Can a price tag be put on what he literally cost the nation?
Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley put a “conservative” price tag of at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years. This, they wrote in the National Journal, takes into account” two wars that continue to occupy 150,000 troops and tie-up a quarter of our defense budget…soaring oil prices partially attributable to the global war on bon Laden’s terrorist network, and a chunk of our mounting national debt.”
It seems bin Laden has his own mission: accomplished. In 2004, he released a statement to Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera in which he announced his goal of “continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” by “using guerilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers” as they had done against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In his statement, bin Laden cited a British estimate that it cost al Qaeda about $500,000 to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks. “Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars,” bin Laden said. "And it all shows that the real loser…is the American people and their economy."
Indeed, CNN reports that the U.S. government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the decade following Sept. 11 just on heightened security and defense measures. The Department of Homeland Security was created to stop terrorist attacks. It alone has spent $424 billion. A total of $71.6 billion will be spent on homeland security in 2012, according to Obama administration projections, CNN said.
A March 2011 Congressional Research Services report said that Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion “for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter-terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).”
Of this total, the report stated, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $806 billion (63%), OEF $444 billion (35%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (2%). About 94% of the funds are for the Department of Defense, 5% for foreign aid programs and diplomatic operations, and 1% for medical care for veterans.
And there are hidden costs, according to CNN’s Richard Quest. Appearing on In the Arena with Elliott Spitzer, he said that none of the estimates take into account “opportunity costs,” the money spent on one thing that might have been spent on something else. “In this case,” he said, “you're talking about the billions and trillions of dollars that were spent on the military, on missiles, on missions and wars and security. Of course there was an economic benefit to that. That money did trickle into the economy through jobs. But, it wasn't spent on health care. It wasn't spent on education or schools, which might have educated American children, which might have improved the quality of education.”