Billionaire Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has boasted that, if elected, he would spend whatever it takes to rebuild the U.S. military and make short work of the ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
While in the same breath he talks about “Putting America First” – which to some sounds like a return to U.S. isolationism – Trump makes it clear he has big plans to write a whole new chapter of the nation’s war on terrorism, which dates back to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
“ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president,” Trump promised during his April 27th major foreign policy address in Washington. “They’ll be gone quickly.” And he vows to rebuild a U.S. military – from naval ships and jet fighters to the U.S. nuclear arsenal – that he insists has eroded under President Obama.
“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military,” he said. “It is the cheapest, single investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.”
Trump typically was short on details of precisely what he has in mind, particularly how much more in federal treasure he is prepared to spend to destroy terrorists overseas and at home and to transform what many already consider the most powerful military machine on earth to an even stronger, more Trumpian-like defense force.
This is no small matter to a country that already has spent literally trillions of dollars – and suffered the loss of nearly 7,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq – since former Republican President George W. Bush launched the war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11.
As the Congressional Budget Office and other budget watchdogs fret about a record $19 trillion national debt and signs of a gradual return to trillion-dollar-a-year budget deficits, Republican and Democratic lawmakers will be wrestling with the efficacy of boosting the budget for defense and national security regardless of whether Trump or Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton succeeds President Obama next January.
Trump may be a billionaire, but he has never dealt with spending challenges of this magnitude. And he would be wise to review just how much the U.S. already has spent on waging war overseas, national security, intelligence and surveillance since 9/11 before he so boldly commits to major increases in many of those areas.
He might begin with the U.S.-allied war efforts against ISIS, which has had its difficulties since Obama first authorized stepped up airstrikes and some ground action in mid-204. According to the National Priorities Project, the total cost of U.S. action against ISIS is $9.43 billion. To put that in some perspective, the war is costing U.S. taxpayers an additional $615,482 every hour.
In looking more broadly at spending on military and anti-terrorist activities over nearly a decade and a half, experts vary on the overall price tag – but it’s safe to say it’s mind boggling.
The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University recently concluded that the U.S. government has spent or obligated $4.4 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq over the past 14 years. That figure includes direct congressional war appropriations, war-related boosts to the Pentagon’s base budget, and veterans’ care and disability. That price tag also covers increases in the Department of Homeland Security, foreign assistance, and estimated future obligations for veterans’ care.
Because Congress has refused to either raise taxes or cut other spending to pay for the war, the necessary borrowing has substantially raised the budget deficit and increased the national debt. If Trump were to step up spending on the war and military hardware, most of that would likely end up on the nation’s credit card.
Another study by James Bovard, a military and national security authority that appeared in the libertarian Reason Magazine, offers a highly critical and skeptical review of what he calls “The High Price of Security Theater.” Yet Bovard prices out the entire cost of the war on terrorism at just $4 trillion. That seems like a bargain compared with the Watson Institute estimates.
“The fact that the war on terror has been expensive will surprise no one,” Bovard wrote. “Since 2001, the U.S. government has laid out mind-boggling sums to keep the homeland safe from violent extremists.
Bovard clearly views much of the past spending as wasteful and wretched excess – and he no doubt would view Trump’s call for increased spending in these areas with a jaundiced eye.
In tallying up the past spending, Bovard included $30 billion for the FBI, $70 billion for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which oversees airport security, $200 billion for creation and operation of the Department of Homeland Security, $500 billion for NSA surveillance operations, and $3 trillion overall for war spending in the Middle East.