There is a range of estimates on what we’ve spent on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Seven trillion dollars is a ballpark figure (what’s a trifling trillion or two nowadays?). By the time all the veterans get the care they are due, we might add as much as another trillion dollars.

Simple question: what did we buy for that?

That’s a third our entire national debt (lookin at you, limited-government Republicans). Of course, we have not accounted the costs, much less the loss of life in those places we fought over (or for? Who knows, we never asked them). God only knows what that cost is.

When the GWOT started we had one failed state. Now we have a half dozen. Our stability operations created a failed state in Libya, the consequences of which radiate into Mali, making refugees of the poorest people on the planet. Syria was tottering, and our policies gave it a giant push. This resulted in the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, other than the partition of India. The earthquake of the crisis cracked the foundation of the largest bloc of liberal nations in the world (the EU). The aftershocks radiate into the Brexit mess.

Our war pressure-cooker gave ISIS the evolutionarily space they needed to supplant Al Qaida, their advantage their simplicity (a clarity of principle). Meanwhile, we fight on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s behalf, their doctrines distinguishable from ISIS’ only by wonkery.

Our approach has us engaged in gray-war in almost half of the countries of the world (“strategy” is a word useful only in irony to describe them).

We lit the Middle East on fire to foster democracy, yet Egypt and Turkey saw islamists take power democratically. Now we must undermine Democratic Egyptian Islamism by subsidizing an usurping military dictator, which is as much a violation of US law, as international human rights law, as it is Egypt’s.

We have fewer trained Afghan soldiers now than when we started to try to rebuild their country.

We stagger from one evolutionarily development caused by our inept strategic vision to another: our strategy in Syria has threatened the Kurds through overextension. We have made an enemy of Turkey, a NATO ally, which is also a bastion of Russian containment, as we ratcheted tension with Russia to a point not seen since the Cold War. And we lost the match of applied cynicism to the blood-drenched Assad regime.

In three-quarters of a generation trying, not one faction has emerged to stand for civilizing, rule of law, multi-cultural Liberalism. No substantial political movements meeting that description existed before our war to conjure them. The war, if anything, has discredited the values we fight to impose on people who obviously don’t want them (as evidenced by the fact that they refuse to take them up). Extrapolate the GWOT’s time line from Nazi Germany, and we see the German state risen up to the nation it was in 1963.

Our enemies have their phrase: “repel the infidel interloper,” which has been that culture’s organizing meme since Mohammed’s revelation in 632 BCE. Remember, the 9/11 hijackers attacked us for our interloping, for being in Saudi Arabia, for being too close to their Holy places. To fix it, we interloped , while President Trump is painted as a dangerous idiot for loping out of the mess.

Invading a country is a rash and radical act. What rash and radical gain was achieved? For example, WW2’s phrase: “uphold liberalism, after we were attacked.” Another: “for a lot less money (the Marshal plan cost about 104 billion dollars), we rebuilt Europe, and in so doing, rebuilt Western civilization.” Another: “We globalized the cause of human rights.”

For that seven trillion dollars (-plus, and counting) we could have bought a Green nuclear/smart/renewable/gas/advanced energy system (or any combination thereof). If we wanted to help poor foreigners, we probably could have bought one for the developing world while we were at it (“save the planet” is catchy). We would have kicked our fossil fuel jones, so that the fighting factions in the GWOT would be too poor to fight (looking at you, Saudi Arabia and Iran).

I’ll go further: other than Grenada, the USA has failed to achieve a clear and reasonable war phrase, that simple declarative sentence, in nigh seventy years of trying.

Can anyone out there say what we bought (and what the many paid with their lives for)? I hear only crickets. The most expensive crickets in world history.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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