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The cost of perpetual war

November 12, 2018


THE ‘war on terror’ nomenclature may no longer be in official use, but the effects triggered by the 9/11 attacks and the responses chosen by the administration of US president George W. Bush have had a shattering effect. The Costs of War Project at Brown University seeks to “facilitate debate about the costs of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria”. In its latest report, the project estimates that “between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan”. The tally does not include the more than 500,000 estimated deaths from the war in Syria since 2011. The project takes an American-centric view of the staggering human, economic and socio-political costs that war has inflicted on the conflict zones and also in the US, but the statistics assembled have a resonance for many countries in this era of what appears to be permanent conflict.

As the Cost of War Project notes: “Compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the US.” Unhappily, the current US administration of President Donald Trump appears to be all too willing to introduce new risks and dangers to an already frayed world order. The peculiar combination of diplomatic isolationism and aggressive, militarised responses to the threats that the Trump administration perceives is surely carrying the world to the possibility of greater conflict, not less. Even in Afghanistan, where President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, which is ostensibly against wasteful foreign interventions, ought to have led to a reduction in the US military footprint, his administration chose to escalate the war rather than immediately seeking a path to end it, as he had indicated he would when campaigning as a candidate for the presidency.

The historic catastrophe that has been the US invasion of Iraq ought to have been paid heed to for generations. Instead, even as domestic politics in the US has repudiated former president George W. Bush’s foreign wars, the Trump administration has embraced some of the neoconservative philosophy of conflict. Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, appears to be engineering a return to an ultra-hawkish US policy on Iran. A devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen still appears to have US backing. From the cauldron of Syria to Libya, all manner of new transnational threats may arise. The Costs of War Project is an important reminder that “compelling alternatives to war” exist and ought to always be considered.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2018

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