How the U.S. Paid $6.4 Trillion to Help Make Osama bin Laden’s Dream Come True

Gun and Money Twenty years ago, Osama bin Laden, the leader of a small extremist group called “al Qaeda,” had a dream. He wanted to establish a caliphate — an Islamic state governed by strict Islamic law — across the Muslim world.

But how could the leader of a small band of fewer than 100 men achieve success? He decided to use terrorist acts targeted at the United States, a country most Islamic extremist groups already considered the enemy. Bin Laden’s strategy was to goad the U.S. into a military invasion of Muslim-majority territory, triggering a holy war that would put al Qaeda at the forefront of the fight against the “unholy Western invaders.”

In 1998, al Qaeda waged successful attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and in 2000, it bombed the USS Cole, a naval ship refueling in a Yemen harbor. The attack on the Cole killed 17 American sailors. But, the U.S. responded to these attacks less aggressively than bin Laden had hoped. 

On September 11, 2001, under bin Laden’s direction, al Qaeda operatives flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing 2,977 people. Less than a month later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and 18 months later, it invaded Iraq. The War on Terror had begun, and, finally, bin Laden’s dream scenario was beginning to take on life. 

The Cost So Far of Our War On Terror

As of January 2020, spent $6.4 trillion on the War on Terror.” All that money has bought 801,000 deaths, of which over 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to violence in the Middle East, much of it triggered by our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are simple words to write, but just for a moment, reflect on the amount of human misery these statistics represent.

And bin Laden’s little extremist band? Well, despite the US investing 18 years and over $6 trillion “fighting terrorism,” al Qaeda and its affiliates have grown from fewer than 100 members in September 2001 to an estimated fighting force of 40,000. Islamic terrorists now stage attacks from Afghanistan, North Africa, East Africa, the Sahel, the Gulf States, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

In short, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion dollars so far in Middle East wars that have caused the death of 800,000 people, and yet, it has not, in any significant way, accomplished its goal of eradicating terriorism. Instead, terrorism has flourished, and the Middle East is a much more chaotic place

What could we have done with $6.4 trillion?

Here’s a question — Instead of squandering trillions of dollars to make the Middle East more violent and chaotic, what could the U.S. have done with the same money during the past 18 years? Here are three ways that we could have put that money to work: 

  1. Eradicated all student debt owed by 43 million Americans$1.5 trillion
  2. Provided free tuition at 4-year public colleges and universities. $70 billion per year X 18 years $1.26 trillion
  3. Fixed our country’s D+ rated infrastructure $200 billion dollars per year X 18 years $3.6 trillion

These three items add up to $6.36 trillion, with $400 million left over for good measure. But would the U.S. government have spent $6.4 trillion for education and infrastructure as readily as on Middle East wars? Not likely. Perhaps, I’ll address the reasons for this in a future article.


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