John Tirman writes:
The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has, predictably, loosed a torrent of sentimental accounts of that terrible day ten years ago.
They recall the shock and horror at these unprecedented events, the courage of the firefighters, the sadness of the victims’ families, and the traumatic impact to the nation. All of this is understandable. What is missing in this retelling, however, are the consequences for America—the enormous cost of “homeland security”—and for the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan who have borne the brunt of America’s vengeance.
For those populations, the penalty is severe. Both countries are still buffeted by chronic warfare that was spurred by U.S. interventions. However one reckons the justifications for the invasions and occupations, the wreckage is undeniable. In Iraq, the number of people killed since the 2003 invasion is well into in the hundreds of thousands, and some four million or more Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. In Afghanistan, the violence has taken a lower toll, but is still in the tens of thousands with no end in sight. For both countries, the living conditions remain difficult—health, clean water, education, livelihoods, and social peace far from adequate.
Those grisly outcomes are occasionally acknowledged in American political discourse, although the costs of war are almost always calibrated in American lives lost and money squandered. The “blood and treasure” calculus rarely mentions the local populations, of course, but even the cost to Americans is sobering: 6,000 lives, tens of thousands maimed, and $4 trillion expended. That $4 trillion does not include vastly expanded Pentagon spending in addition to the wars, spending that has gotten a free pass in the last decade. But another cost is scarcely discussed: the enormous and expanding homeland security juggernaut.
The post-9/11 atmosphere spawned a government and societal response that uses fear and suspicion as a guiding belief system. The government has spent colossal amounts of money and has spurred the private sector to do likewise to check every person entering a skyscraper, scrutinize trillions of emails and phone messages, and expand the “security envelope” of the United States around the world. In dollars, that translates into something like $1 trillion spent by the federal government and probably a similar amount by businesses, educational institutions, and local governments. (Tellingly, there is no estimate of these non-federal costs.) Homeland security, in fact, feeds on the anxieties spawned by 9/11 and nurtured by politicians, in part because it supports pork-barrel politics in the same way that anti-communist fervor fueled excessive military spending and domestic surveillance during the long rivalry with the Soviet Union.