In the decade since 9/11, the U.S. government has pursued a national security policy that has been exceedingly costly in blood and treasure. Even before, U.S. defense spending was high by world standards, due in part to frequent interventions beyond the nation’s borders, and after 9/11 the spending and casualties have mounted precipitously.
There are no indications that our national security policies will change in the near future. Within a day of announcing that it found and killed al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration maintained that the war on terrorism would continue. Moreover, both the U.S. government and al Qaeda have warned that Osama’s death could elicit retaliatory attacks by the terror network.
In any event, it appears that Osama’s death will not signal a rapid reduction of defense spending or an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces abroad. Although some of the government’s activities since 9/11 were useful in locating Osama, it appears that much of it had little to do with this narrow goal, the completion of which was relatively inexpensive and has so far not marked a major shift in policy. Should the administration decide to change course in the coming months, it is still important to look back at the last ten years and assess the costs of U.S. defense and foreign policy.