Monday, August 29, 2011

Ten years after 9/11, has anybody won the war on terror?

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, it's safe to say that Al-Qaeda has lost the war on terror--after all, Bin Laden is dead and much of their leadership and global influence has all but disappeared. But the real question is, who won? New York magazine columnist Frank Rich argues that America is suffering from a number of problems today that can be traced directly to our government's response to 9/11. And if you can look past a few of Rich's more partisan comments, I feel that overall he makes a good point. It could be that the war on terror, like Vietnam and WWI before it, has been a conflict with no real winner.

9/11 had the potential to unite us, and for a short while it did. But eventually, as Bush started using it as an excuse to invade Iraq, the unity died. Instead, one was either with the White House or with the terrorists. Many have accused the mainstream media of cheerleading the war and not providing a balanced analysis of the rationale for the invasion. People who criticized the president or the Iraq War were attacked as "unpatriotic." Instead of unifying us, the Iraq invasion and its aftermath seems to have ignited the bitter partisanship that now seems to pervade Washington. Before Iraq, Democrats and Republicans could actually work together. Now, any politicians who attempt to compromise are viewed by their base as "surrendering." Bashing the president was not nearly as popular in the media before 2003 as it has been in the past eight years, no matter which party has controlled the White House. Trust in government has plummeted to all-time lows.

Perhaps a bigger problem was, as Rich puts it, the war was fought by a "largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind" army and paid for by a "magic credit card." As support for the war waned, the military resorted to widespread dishonest recruiting and unprecedented use of stop-loss policies to keep up troop levels. Washington also thought that they could pay for the war almost entirely through deficit spending. Taken together, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, and the Medicare prescription drug entitlement are responsible for the majority of our national debt at this point, and played a huge role in the S&P credit downgrade.

The war on terror has clearly been a defeat for Al-Qaeda. But with bitter partisan divisions, massive debts, and a seemingly endless conflict in Afghanistan--all a result of the war on terror--can we really say that we have won?


  1. Good post, but I question including the standard line about the Bush tax cuts In order to blame the tax cuts you have to assume that they were only losses of tax revenue with no positive impact on the economy. As Wiki reports, (see below) Bush had the economy growing at 2.8% compared to the 1.1% rate before the tax cuts. This growth more than paid for the tax cuts, as it usually does, but critics just like to assume that growth would have happened anyway and then they just subtract the tax cut revenue loss from this GDP which is a false assumption.

    "At the time Bush took office the economy had grown at a 1.1% annualized rate over the previous three quarters to March 31 of the first year of Bush presidency [63] (see Early 2000s recession). Bush had his tax cut plan approved by Congress in June.

    Overall real GDP grew at an average annual rate of 2.5%. Between 2001 and 2005, GDP growth was clocked at 2.8%."

    PS. Also what about the impact of Dodd/Frank letting Fanny/Freddie run wild?

  2. Sorry, I should have made my point more clear. I don't think the tax cuts were a mistake at all. What I meant to say was that you can't cut taxes, pass a huge prescription-drug entitlement, AND start two wars at about the same time. The tax cuts certainly contributed to economic growth, but federal revenue as a percent of GDP still went down between 2001 and 2005. Obviously I'd prefer low taxes and no wars. But if the government really feels that a war is necessary, I think they should be required to pay for it with some sort of tax increase.

  3. U.S. Treasury, numbers show the debt during Bush’s eight years in office increased from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion, or $4.9 trillion over eight years. That’s bad; that’s $610 billion per year. But in the less than three years Obama has been in office, the debt increased from $10.6 trillion to $14.2 trillion, a $3.6 trillion increase in about 27 months. In other words, Obama is increasing the debt by $1.6 trillion per year, three times as fast as Bush.